August – It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

A COVID-19 Diary (Of Sorts)

It shouldn’t be this hard to improve our response to the pandemic but August shows the ease with which an inept government can screw up just about anything.

August 31

Today we passed the 6 million mark in terms of those infected with the coronavirus in the US. It was only half a year ago that we had a handful of cases that, according to Trump, were going down to nothing. Well… he sure got that one wrong. 

Of course, we knew at the time that it was almost a certainty that he was mistaken. But then, getting it right doesn’t seem to matter. It’s about selling your story. 

That’s what we’ve been living with for months. The determined masquerade. The big con. The distortion of reality to fit your narrative no matter how outlandish. 

So… let’s be clear. As of today, there are 18 states — 36% of the nation — where the number of cases is greater than it was just a week ago. In 46% of the country the number is steady. Which is a way of saying that it’s every bit as bad there today as it was last week. I’m not trying to be the anti-Trump voice painting a tale fo doom and gloom, but we do need to ask ourselves where we are… we need to understand. And being the “same” as last week is not good. 

As a nation, we need to do far, far better. Our cases per 100,000 need to be lower. Our positivity rates need to be lower. Our deaths need to be lower. But if we say it’s OK long enough and loud enough, maybe some will believe it. If we accuse the scientists and the public health officials of being part of Deep State, we can ignore them. Or at least that seems to be the Trump approach.

Even good news has to be viewed in perspective. Numbers are lower in nine states this week than last. That’s great that in 18 percent of the country cases are dropping. But that includes Florida and Texas and California which were seeing sky high numbers so lower numbers is a relative term to say the least. 

So, we’ll hear a lot of nonsense in the coming days and months. But, between now and Election Day, there will likely be around 80,000 fewer voters to register their views because they will have died of the pandemic that’s “over.” By December we will have lost 300,000 of our fellow citizens. And it won’t be over. 

Until six months ago, our daughter and son-in-law and grandkids who live nearby were routine visitors to our home. Now it’s an exceptional event that we all plan for, as happened yesterday. Is the weather going to permit us to be outside? What can we plan to eat that won’t involved shared a multitude of shared dishes or gathering around a kitchen island filled with food? How do we tell the little ones that hugs have to be delivered with care if at all. When do masks go on and when do they come off? Can they do the play they’ve been rehearsing for you inside the house? How, when, where, what? Suddenly what was just normal visit requires far more thought and care.

Is it worth it? Of course it is. But the new reality we are all coping with is daunting. It’s hard on kids, it’s hard on parents. I can’t begin to imagine how our daughter will be able to virtual teach her special education students while also managing our very energetic and curious four year old grandson. And the constraints imposed by this virus mean we can’t help in the way we might want. 

This is going to be hard for kids across the country. It’s going to be tough for their parents. It’s hard for older Americans. No one is untouched. We deal with the anxiety and stress and fear of catching a virus that is potentially deadly even as we long to resume a normal life and sit together, laugh together, and embrace without fear. 

Donald Trump diminishes what we all have sacrificed and what we are going through as a society with his false narratives and pretense that the virus is gone. His message would tell us that the care we take to protect our loved ones is wasted effort, that our desire to come together in a time of national crisis is unnecessary. 

That refusal to acknowledge our reality is insulting. But this is the man who refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to give lie to the essence of the American dream. This is the man who refuses to acknowledge the existential threat posed by climate change. This is the man who refuses to address the horrors of gun violence that have taken so many lives, including those of children at school. This is the man who refuses to acknowledge anything that does not cast him as the hero in the fiction that he has built about his presidency. 

We deserve to be acknowledged, not diminished. These concerns call out for attention, not disregard. And the lives of our children and grandchildren and our parents and grandparents… the lives of every one of our citizens… is worthy of protection and respect. I know that’s not part of the Trump playbook. But it should be.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy. 

August 30

Dear Corona Virus,

I hope you don’t mind my unsolicited letter, but I thought someone needed to reach out. There are times when even your friends won’t tell you the things you need to know but it has to be said anyway.Corona… you need to up your game. You’re getting creamed by the politicians. They’re sucking all the air out of the room and you… well, you can barely make the front page of the Sunday papers.

Let’s face it, Corona. You’ve become boring. You’re old news. You’re not surging. You’re not exciting. ONLY 40,000+ new infections yesterday. I mean… come on. What happened to the 70,000+ days. Then you had our attention. Now you’re staler than Trump’s all-too familiar name calling.

I know that 40,000+ is still a pandemic that’s out of control. I know that even 20,000 new cases a day was being considered a failure to manage a disaster just a few months ago. But that was then, this is now.We’ve gotten used to you, Corona. You’re no longer the new kid on the block that we’re all fascinated by. Hell… in lots of places folks have decided to totally ignore you.

Sure… cases are on the rise in the Dakotas, for example, but who on the east coast even knows where they, or anything west of the Mississippi, really is? Admittedly, you’ve made a good run on college campuses — you’ve infected 1,000 college kids in Alabama just since school started again — but that’s not enough if you’re going to knock the politicians off the front pages.

Listen, Corona. You can do this. The likelihood of an effective vaccine being widely accepted and distributed is still months away. You’ve got time to stage a wicked comeback. And you’ve got your hooks deeply into us, so you’ve got a base to build on. After all, you ARE still killing almost 900 of us every day. Your body count is closing in on 900,000 around the world. A million is in sight. And in the US, with a little work, you’ll easily top 300,000 kills by December.

THAT should be enough to keep you at the top of the news. No one in MY lifetime has killed more in such a short time — at least not that I can recall. You should be top of the heap. But you’ve lost our attention. Maybe it’s our fault, not yours. After all, you DO seem to be doing all you can to get us to notice you. So maybe it IS us. Maybe we don’t value human life enough. Maybe we’ve lost our ability to feel collective pain and sorrow in an era where nothing touches us for long. Maybe there’s too much information coming at us and every story makes only a fleeting impression on our consciousness. Maybe. I don’t know. But Corona, listen, you’ve just got to make more of an effort. Put yourself out there.

Now you may ask why I want to help you, Corona. I’ll be honest… I don’t. But I’d rather you remain at the forefront of our consciousness than quietly skulking along. If you aren’t on our radar we’ll just make it easier for you to do your deadly work.

As it is, there are plenty of folks who already say “forget the masks.” Plenty who are want to be “free to make their own choices.” And the scientists and doctors… no one is listening to them. Trump tells everyone that you’re finished and offers quick fixes and false hopes that are much more palatable than all of us having to actually make the effort to keep family and friends and yes… even strangers… safe.

If folks won’t wear masks, if they won’t socially distance at Trump’s rally’s or White House events, if they don’t bother with hand hygiene… and it seems that all the above are true… you’ve still got a chance to come roaring back. The Spanish flu showed how it was done a 100 years ago and heck… you’re far tougher than that. So that’s why I want to help you get back in the headlines. You’re more dangerous in the shadows than the spotlight.

But wait… I get it. You sly devil. You don’t want my advice because this is what you wanted all along, isn’t it? You WANT to be off the front pages. You WANT folks to forget about you. You want them to ignore the deaths and convince themselves it’s all OK. Because it will make it easier than ever for you to win the “comeback of the year” award later. And that’s what you want.

So, for now, you’re happy to stay on page 2, out of the limelight, and wait. I guess I’ll close, then, Corona. Clearly, you don’t need my advice. You’ve got it figured out. You’re out there waiting. And headlines or not, you’ll keep finding people to infect and you won’t weep a tear for those who die. “It is what it is.” Right?

Please though, do me one favor. Don’t come visit. You wouldn’t like it here anyway. You see, in this household we believe the scientists. We use masks. We distance. We have disinfecting wipes and foaming hand soap and they get used. We won’t be fooled by you playing possum, Corona. We know you’re out there and we know you’re not the flu. We know you’re not just the sniffles. You’re nasty and ugly and you’re a killer. Well, we’re paying attention in our house, Corona, even if many in America have been suckered into believing that your day is done. One of these days that will be true. It just isn’t yet. So, until that day, just move on. You’re not wanted here.


Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 29

And now… for something completely different.

I don’t have it in me today to write about the pandemic — and yes, it is still with us. Of course, if you listened to the Republican convention you could be excused for thinking it was over. They did their best to sell that idea, but I wonder if they were even believing it.
And I can’t bring myself to write about the latest stupidity from Trump’s campaign rally or shake my head in dismay at those culture warriors who are convinced that if you care about black lives, or wear masks, or worry about climate change, you’re an anti-christ anarchist who hates America.

Nope. Can’t do it.

So, instead, for those of you who have not yet seen it, I’ll share below a link to the video trailer for “The Ambassador’s Dog.” I may be biased… no, I AM biased… but I think the story is one that is right for these days.

It’s a story about a pup alone on a trail in Upper Mustang in Nepal. An abandoned pup who was determined to live. A pup who had a dream and who trusted in it’s power. It’s a tale of things that are meant to be… and much more.

The narrative brings me peace and joy and when combined with Leija’s painstaking editing and the incredible paintings of Jane Lilian Vance — a dear friend and celebrated artist — it all comes to life. There’s a richness and depth and complexity in the illustrations and they and the text become one and together they are far greater than their parts.

It has been a project of love. A story that was meant to be told, Leija says, and it comes from the heart. All because of a pup on a trail in what was once the ancient kingdom of Lo.
It has been a fascinating journey and now we’ve just finished reviewing the final edits on the manuscript from the publisher in Nepal, Vajra Books. They did an incredible job of combining text and paintings into a work of beauty that offers a story of hope in a time when hope seems to be a too-rare commodity.

If the pandemic doesn’t get too much in the way, we may actually have the book in our hands within a few months, but we’ll believe it when we see it. It will be printed in India because they have a higher quality paper that will highlight the richness of the illustrations in all their splendor.

It will, we hope, be a book to be treasured not just by children but by all of us who have ever loved a pup. And it will touch a resonant chord, I think, for those who, even in these challenging times, have kept some measure of childlike wonder alive in their hearts.
So, happy Saturday! And for one other non-pandemic, non-political thought, let me offer these words of true wisdom from Pascal:

“You don’t have to think what others tell you to think. But if they tell you to think about popcorn, consider it.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 28

It’s crazy to think we’re almost through the month of August. All I can say is… thank god. Talk about the dog days of summer… this was the worst. No travel. A pandemic that takes a ceaseless toll. More turmoil stoked by anger over racism and police violence and then… politics. God… even for a self-confessed political junkie, this has been too much. And yes, when I say that, I AM talking largely about what we hear from the President and his cronies.

The democrats may have offered a sobering assessment of the challenges that our nation faces, but those were realistic concerns. The Republicans, on the other hand, are shouting — literally — about scary, apocalyptic days ahead, in which anarchists, and, apparently, a godless antichrist figure named Joe Biden, bring death, blood and despair to our cities. I can’t take it. Really. I can’t.

And the theme I’ve written about a lot this week — the increasingly divergent “realities” that we see when we look at our nation and it’s future — has been the subject of numerous articles in the past few days. Some of them have been quite good, but none has really managed to explain how we have come to this point or, more importantly, how we get back to a SHARED reality.

I remember being aghast early in the administration when they began to offer “alternative” facts. The idea that if you don’t like blue you can offer your alternative fact that the sky is orange — and your version of that fact and of reality is every bit as correct, if not more so, than the assertion that the sky really is blue.

THAT is where we have come, and Trump may not have invented all this, but his speech last night again was a masterwork in rewriting reality and offering falsehoods as truths without so much as a blush.

And here is where it has led us: According to one article, at a rally in Texas to protest the use of federal troops to quell protests in favor of Black Lives Matter and racism, “… hundreds of conservative counter-protesters and supporters of President Trump, many with military-style rifles slung over their shoulders, swarmed the town square and began pushing and shoving and yelling obscenities.

“One man punched Democrat Nancy Nichols in the chest, she said, and three others pinned her husband against Tyler’s war memorial. Other armed men were positioned around the edges of the square in military-style defensive formation, their hands clutching their rifles.
“They were yelling ‘Democrats are f—ing idiots’ and ‘Democrats are demons,’ recalled Nichols, 65.”

But before we all jump to condemn the folks on the right, we have to recognize that righteous indignation leading to excess isn’t the province of conservatives alone. This past week a group of people berated customers at D.C. restaurants who refused to raise their fist in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. And I am sure that there are plenty of other examples of liberal excess and intolerance to match what we see on the right.

Ironically, both sides are worried about their first amendment rights. Both sides are worried that their voices will be silenced, that their dreams and hopes for the future are on the line, and that they will become a powerless minority in a nation that is moving tragically in the wrong direction. We all share the same fears it seems… why can’t we find a common vision to share as well?

It is equally ironic, perhaps, that Portland has, in some ways, become a poster child for both sides in this ongoing struggle for America’s future. We’ve seen BLM protests morph into broader anti-government and antifascist protests that included their own acts of violence and intimidation. The government response was equally troubling and ran counter to our democratic norms on many levels. And the protests have sparked counter-protests as well — in Portland and elsewhere.

Some of those counter-protests were led by people who were just concerned that things had gone too far and were getting out of hand. Others, perhaps encouraged by the dire words of Trump and his supporters, were far more threatening actors like armed members of the Proud Boys who were just spoiling for a fight. We had the full range of views and concerns on display and there were excesses at times on all fronts. Not a healthy situation.

I worry that this will only become worse in the days ahead. The years have taught me there’s always another side to the story, but if we stop listening and talking to each other we will never know what it is.

It is easier, of course, to comfortably hold to our positions, secure in our conviction of righteousness, and that is where most of us are today. Demonization is replacing dialogue, and that’s harmful to us all.

Yes. I’m angry and dismayed by Trump and his policies. I can’t abide his abandonment of ethical norms or his nastiness and mean-spirited treatment of others. I can’t stomach his overweening ego that puts his interests above those of the nation and his refusal to take responsibility for his actions. And yes, I’m prepared to do all I can to bring about a change in November.

But, even if I have to push myself, I know I have to remember that. despite our differing views of reality, most of the people on either side of the political divide are decent folks.
We’re all worried about the future. We all fear that America will become a nation we can no longer recognize, and we are concerned about what this may mean for our kids and our grandkids. And, even if we may differ on what we want for that future, as I contemplate the next few months of campaigning I find the thought of us living in armed camps, fearing and hating each other, to be heartbreaking.

So today let me hope that we will not only stay strong, safe and healthy, but will also be tolerant, empathetic, and open, in the months that lie ahead.

No photo description available.

August 27

Today is more of the same in the tale of two Americas. At the Republican National Convention last night Mike Pence was apparently unable to bring himself to say the name Jacob Blake. He couldn’t take the time to talk about racism and police violence. He couldn’t find the time to talk about George Floyd, or Rayshard Brooks, or Briana Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery — or any of the other black men and women who have died at the hands of the police (or, as in the case of Arbery, at the hands of racist white killers who would likely have gone uncharged in the criminal justice system if the outcry had not been too much for prosecutors to ignore).

In the America in which I live, Black Lives Matter. But not to Mike Pence and not to Donald Trump. In their America, the priority isn’t black lives or systemic racism. It’s about preserving white privilege and getting re-elected.

They decry the protests — not the police violence that fuels them. They paint a picture of America in flames and of our streets in chaos; a dangerous and scary place where weak mayors and governors (who are almost always Democrats) support or tolerate the violence. They tell us we won’t be safe if Joe Biden wins. They claim he’ll take away your guns (yes… that same old trope again), empty the prisons, and turn violent criminals loose on the streets. It’s all made up, but that doesn’t stop them.

THAT is what they have to sell. Fear. It’s their hope for victory. It’s all they’ve got.
Fear. Fear of the “other.” Fear of black men. Fear of Hispanics.

Their target? White suburban voters. They want white voters to believe that their safety depends on Trump. That’s the message. They want to scare their way into victory.
And as much as it may resonate with some of their supporters it just disgusts me.
It doesn’t surprise me, though. There is a reason that they don’t want to talk about the underlying issues: they have no answers.

They don’t want to talk about racism. They don’t want to talk about the disparate treatment that whites and blacks receive in the courts or in sentencing. They don’t want to focus on why black and brown Americans have suffered so much more at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic. They don’t want to talk about the inherent risks every time a person of color encounters the police. And it’s crystal clear that they don’t want to ask WHY people are protesting or looting. They don’t want to ask WHY the anger burns so white hot.

Yes. Looting is bad and violence is bad. But so is the history of violence and oppression that has been directed against the minority communities in our nation. And If you can’t even bring yourself to say Jacob Blake’s name, if you can’t acknowledge the pain his family feels and the injustice of the act of violence directed against him, then don’t tell me about how bad it is that people are protesting in response.

Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times. There is no evidence that he had done anything wrong or that he contemplated violent action. But he was black… so he must’ve been a threat.

But then there was Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year old armed with a long gun who walked the streets of Kenosha, imbued with a sense of vigilante justice. He says he was there to protect a business, but he shot three people and killed two of them.

According to witness accounts and video footage, police let Rittenhouse walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people. But police didn’t stop him.

Of course, Rittenhouse was white. And there-in lies the tale.
Do you think the police would have let Rittenhouse just stroll on by if he was black? Or what about the heavily armed white thugs who protested COVID-19 shutdowns and threatened governors and other officials? How do you think the police would have acted had those armed men been black instead of white?

What ARE people supposed to do in the face of systemic injustice? We can start by voting out those who don’t care. We can applaud the pro athletes who are refusing to play, rather than vilifying them. We can keep talking and protesting and refusing to let this disappear from the public consciousness until it is addressed.

Pandemic or not, the violence against the black community continues. And pandemic or not the protests will as well. Trump may want to frame this as an election about law and order, but to me it’s an election about social justice, racial equality, and human decency (along with climate change, gun control, and countless other issues).

Jacob Blake’s story is as much a part of the narrative during these pandemic days as the number of new infections or the rising death toll — and it’s every bit as important. So I add it to the chronicles here because it matters.

And so it goes in Haymarket, on another COVID Thursday.

I’ll close, as has become the norm, with something entirely different. It’s the thought for the day from Pascal and although It may seem trivial to you for us bearded guys, it’s food for though:

“Why are they called whiskers, maaan? Whenever I use ’em to whisk stuff, it always ends badly.“

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 26

I think we can all be excused if there are days when we just feel worn out by it all. And by “it all” I mean the pandemic, our national politics, and the tribalism that has us mired in two diametrically opposed visions of what our nation is, what our problems are, and what our future should be. It’s exhausting.

It worries me that some family and friends can look at America today and see sunshine and roses thanks to Trump. I don’t understand how they can overlook the nastiness, the failed leadership, the insults, the misogyny and all the rest. I really don’t see how they can applaud him or believe that he and the Republican Party are taking us in the right direction.

But they do. And they aren’t bad people. They aren’t racists and haters and mean-spirited. They aren’t. They’re folks I know, folks I like, and folks for whom I hope only the best. I just don’t get how, what seems so perfectly clear to me, can be seen so very, very differently by them.

The politics of grievance and division and alienation have increasingly come to define us over the past decade (or more) and it seems to be reaching a crescendo. And it’s sad, because these people that I like, even as I disagree with them, are inevitably tied in to the white supremacists and the QAnon crackpots that share their political space. But then, they probably see me as inevitably tainted and likened to the wild-eyed leftists and Marxists and other extremists (as they would describe them) who they say seek to “destroy” America.

There are extremists on the right and the left and it’s easy to hold them out as the bogeyman that threatens our nation and its future. But it IS troubling that, even if we strip out the crazies on either side, we still have a fundamental disconnect about who we are, and who we should be, that runs like a chasm through our society. We’re troubled and divided and scared. And the pandemic only makes it worse.

Now the CDC has changed guidance — again — about whether you need to be tested after exposure. I don’t understand what has led to the change in thinking. There was no explanation of the science behind this decision, if there is any, but there IS a report that the decision was driven by the White House. Just as the President’s tweeting about the “deep state” seemed to spark an overnight shift of views about authorizing emergency use of plasma therapy.

It’s so disheartening when you feel that our public health system has become so politicized that we have to look for hidden motives in every decision that comes along. All this just adds to the confusion and uncertainty we face, while creating an atmosphere in which political disinformation, including campaigns by Russian and other adversaries, have fertile ground.

Today is one of those days where “it all” seems too much. Where I feel empty and aching for our nation, unsure of the future, and discouraged that too many good people stand on the other side of a divide that may be unbridgeable. It is a day to recharge I guess, and, whenever that happens, I look for inspiration. And I may have found it in these words from Pascal. “You gotta be careful what you wish for in life. Unless you wish for ice cream. That’s pretty safe.Sounds about right to me. Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 25

After weeks of grim numbers on the coronavirus, we are breathing a sigh of relief because the numbers are starting to drop a bit. But it’s all relative isn’t it?

We’re happy to see new infections at 40,000+ a day because it seems so much better than 60,000+ a day. And it is.

But let’s not forget that two months ago we were at 20,000 – 25,000 a day and we thought THAT was too high. And it was.

So as I said, it’s all relative, isn’t it?

And, even as we feel a bit of hope because the sunbelt infection rates seem to be dropping, we are getting new numbers that are troubling in the midwest. I saw one report that said they were worried about a “third wave.”

I think we can all be excused for feeling a bit confused. I don’t know where the first wave ended and the second began, if it did, and I sure as heck don’t know how we figure out where the difference lies between the second and third.

And what of the fourth and fifth. Because most of the experts tell us that there is more to come. There’s the guy in Hong Kong who had the virus and got reinfected with a strain that was prevalent in Europe. What does THAT mean for all of us? Yet another source of uncertainty and confusion.

But it’s interesting to track the data. There seems to be a clear correlation between those areas that imposed mask mandates, that re-closed bars, and that enforced social distancing, and the reduction in infection numbers. That’s totally NOT a surprise — at least to anyone who believes in science and has been paying attention. In the long run, that is the way we’ll make progress. Mask, distancing, hand hygiene.

But it can’t be haphazard. It can’t be just for a little bit. We’ve already seen that version of the response. The numbers drop and so does our vigilance. We’re in such a hurry to get back to normal that we ignore the science, we forget that the pandemic has its own timetable, and we make what is a bad situation, even with the best efforts, so much worse.

Forgive my skepticism, but I see no sign that we’ve learned the lessons as a nation. Some states have. Some communities with strong leadership have. But overall, we’re still seeing a wildly disjointed response, compounded by a failure of leadership at the national level that will become THE story of America’s disastrous response to the greatest public health challenge of our lifetime.

Of course, from reports I read, you’d never believe that to be true if you had watched the Republican Convention last night. They praised Trump’s management of the virus and his leadership. We knew that revisionist narratives (which is a polite way of saying BS) would have to be the order of the day, because they sure can’t admit to the truth of this administration’s failures. But we don’t need to dwell on that.

Suffice it to say that it speaks volumes when a party declares it won’t offer a platform defining their plans, their views, and their values. Nope. Not this year. Instead they are perfectly happy to slavishly fall in line behind the “Make America Great Again” mantra of Donald Trump and THAT will define them this year they say.

It all sounds and feels more like a cult than a political party — and it’s more than a little scary. And, the followers pretend not to notice as their leader slips ever further down rabbit holes in which conspiracy theories about Deep State enemies abound. And his supporters accept it as normal when political foes are vilified as evil villains who will “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.” (Yes… that is an actual quote from Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz, congressman from Florida, speaking at the convention last night.)

It’s a convention where I guess it’s ok if you’re a racist or believe unreservedly in the craziness of Q, so long as you love Trump. That’s his measuring stick. Do they love him?

Of course, his narcissism is so overwhelming he can’t understand how someone might NOT love him as much as he loves himself. And it’s that same narcissism that has fueled his insistence that he be featured during the prime time hour every night during this convention. Another reason I can’t bring myself turn on the TV.

Oh yes, it’s a meeting of the Cult of Donald and we don’t have to watch to know what is being served up. But, as abhorrent as it may feel, make no mistake; if left unchecked, it will grow — just as QAnon has — and will further corrupt our body politic and our democracy.

Threats to our health, threats to our institutions, and threats to our democracy, our values, and our future.

But then, as Trump would tell you… “it is what it is.”

Worried? VOTE.
Disgusted? VOTE.
Angry? VOTE.

Elections have consequences and this one may be the most consequential of all. Vote as if your future depends on it. It does.

And now, a closing thought from Pascal:

“You. Me. Everyone. We’ve all got problems. But, man, it’s comforting to know we have that in common.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 24

I can’t do it. I know I probably should, but I can’t watch the Republican National Convention. I can’t listen to speaker after speaker praising the great leadership we’ve had, the astounding successes in the fight against COVID-19, and I can’t listen to the twisted narratives about BLM protests.

I can’t stomach the dark and twisted vision we’ll hear of America and our cities and our future. I can’t listen to the tacit and, in some cases, the direct support for outlandish conspiracy theories that undermine the very nature of our democratic government and that give comfort and support to white supremacists and radical right wing organizations that threaten our stability and future.

That is what the Republican party has become under Trump. The voices of responsible conservatism have been silenced and if they disagree with Trump — as two dozen former Republican lawmakers who just endorsed Biden do — they’re dismissed as “swamp creatures” by the White House.

The problem is, though, it’s now Trump’s swamp. How long can he continue to run against Obama’s Washington when he’s been president for almost four years now?

The answer is, of course, he’ll do it forever. He doesn’t care about rationality. He’ll continue to rail about the “deep state” — those hidden foes in the Justice Department, the FBI, the State Department, the FDA, and more. But, of course, all those entities are led by Trump’s appointees. And not just the leaders, but virtually all the senior leaders are Trump’s people.

But that doesn’t matter. He’s got to offer a reason for his failures. And it’s easier to blame a hidden “deep state” that no one can question or confront, rather than admit he’s made a disaster of the presidency.

And this weekend he used the “deep state” cudgel to bully the FDA into doing an emergency use declaration about plasma therapy for fighting the pandemic. Anyone who believes that Trump’s Saturday tweets about the “deep staters” within the FDA delaying the release of therapeutics didn’t lead to the Sunday declaration about plasma therapy are kidding themselves, I believe.

Trump wanted to announce something about the pandemic to try and improve his image before the Republican convention starts today and so he forced this early action by the FDA.

This plasma therapy may be a useful too. But it may not. We just don’t know because the testing hasn’t been done. The facts are not yet in. Just as with hydroxychloroquine we have another unscientific rush to judgment because Trump wants it… not because it is proven or smart.

But that’s the way we work in America these days. Damn the facts and damn public health if it will get the president re-elected. That’s the bottom line and we all know it — we just won’t all admit it.

And if he’s willing to force a premature release of a therapy what will he do about a vaccine? When we play political games with the drugs we take and the medical choices we offer people we put everyone at risk. And if he pushes a premature release of a vaccine — even if it eventually proves to be a great vaccine — how many will be worried about it’s safety and efficacy when they know it’s release has been dictated by political need rather than by scientific assessment?

All this further compounds the challenges of managing a deadly pandemic. And it’s frightening and sad and just wrong.

The summer surge we’ve seen of the pandemic seems to be easing. But the pandemic is not done with us and anyone who is paying attention knows it. And so we hope for responsible action and thoughtful leadership, but we hope in vain.

And meanwhile, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back yesterday by police. Blake was, reportedly, trying to stop two women who were fighting.

The details are still coming in, but, the police, who responded to the call about a domestic incident, reportedly first taser’ed Blake and then, when he tried to enter his vehicle where his three young children sat watching, he was shot in the back repeatedly by the Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers.

Oh yes… Blake is a black man. But you could have guessed that, right? It says something about our nation that, even as we wait for more details, I find myself bracing to learn that this was yet another case where it wasn’t the actions of the victim but the color of his skin that led to him being gunned down.

We can dress it up… we can call it an “excessive use of force”… but whether it was conscious racism or unconscious bias, the fact that Mr. Blake was black was likely a trigger. And if he dies, we need to call it what it is… another unjustified homicide committed by those who are supposed to protect our citizens.

We have to be deeply troubled by a criminal justice system that, from the cop on the beat to the judges in the courts, produces results that reflect the systemic racism that Trump and the Republicans will take pains to dismiss at their convention this week.

It’s not just that they deny and fail to offer leadership on these problems — which admittedly have been with us for decades — that is discouraging. It’s that Trump has chosen confrontation rather than dialogue with troubled citizens, has given comfort to white supremacists, has launched federal troops against our own citizens exercising their constitutional rights, and has used police state tactics in places like Oregon with masked and unnamed thugs seizing citizens and hauling them away in unmarked vehicles.

That is Trump’s America. It’s not mine and I refuse to let it become mine.

Standing in opposition, we cannot not traffic in the hate and division and fear that have been his hallmark, but we can and must speak out when we see them. We can and must support those willing to stand against them. We can and must vote against them.

And, if we do, I will hope that, when my newest grandchild is born in March of next year, our nation will have begun the long journey back from the depths in which we are mired with this presidency.

And now, a Monday message from Pascal that fits my mood.

“They say not to cry over spilled milk. I say go ahead. Cry over whatever you need to. Maaan, just let it out.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 23

It’s Sunday today. Expect no great thoughts (not that THOSE are routinely served up in any event) or even not-so-great thoughts.

My plate is full. I’m finishing the project I started yesterday, I have work to do for Engage Nepal, and there’s another task looming. I worked with one of the State Department’s historians over the span of some months and a dozen or more interviews to record an oral history.

Now, after almost a year, I’ve got the written transcript to review and edit. It’s 324 pages and that review is not going to go quickly, I fear. I’m bemused to see the unconscious placeholders that are interspersed in the narrative as I gather my thoughts in response to a question.

After having spent the past six months writing daily it is interesting to compare how we communicate orally and with the written word. I’m convinced, as I read the transcript, that oral histories are meant to be heard, not read.

There is so much that is lost when we take the spoken word and just offer a verbatim transcript. The story can be lost so easily… the emphasis, the nuance, the tone of voice, all convey so much. And all are lost in a bare transcription.

That’s not to say we can’t capture a great story in writing — of course we can. But the spoken narrative and written one are cousins, not siblings, and I will have my work cut out to ensure that the written version of the oral history is edited with care enough that it remains true to the source material but accessible and rich for the reader.

So these are the things that are on my mind this Sunday. And it’s good to think about things other than the pandemic or politics. God knows, we’ll have plenty of both in the days ahead.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Pascal:

“Do roosters go back to sleep after they wake everyone up? I mean, they’re pretty much done for the day. Think about it, maaan.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 22

Do you wonder why so many Americans feel left behind and left out? We see the anger, the disillusionment, and the sense of betrayal felt by so many who are not white, and by those who struggle to meet the basic needs of their families, play out in many ways.

We see it in the protests that have rocked our nation this summer in response to the many manifestations of systemic racism that have shocked our conscience once again.

We see it when we look at how this pandemic has ravaged people of color and those who live in poverty in the richest nation in the world.

And then, this morning, I read the headline about the parties in the Hamptons where hosts pay a members-only medical concierge service $500 a guest to offer rapid testing for COVID-19 at the door.

How does that feel, I wonder, for those whose health insurance has been lost during this pandemic. How is it seen by those who can’t even get seen by a doctor much less get a rapid test to know whether they might infect the grandparents or parents with whom they might live.

How do they feel do you think, when they see Trump at his private golf club, surrounded by a bunch of rich white folks, telling the country the pandemic is going away — while none of them wear masks, practice social distancing, or seem to care one whit about the tens of thousands of deaths or the millions of infections that so many have to face.

The painful inequities are real. I know that I’m part of the elite. I’m white. I made a decent living in service to our country and now receive a pension and social security and can afford health insurance and a life of relative security.

I make no apologies, but I know as well that if we don’t commit ourselves to supporting fundamental reforms in terms of economic, racial and social justice, we will ultimately fail as a nation. Changing the leadership at the top means nothing if we don’t also change the policies that have so long perpetuated the power of the elites.

As Biden said the other day, this isn’t about punishing folks for success. But we do have to find a new direction that works for all our citizens. We just have to.

But today I’m focusing on other things. The main floor half bath needs painting. There’s something very satisfying in tackling a project that you can control. Removing switch covers, and mirrors, and towel racks. Taping off baseboards and door frames. Sanding the areas that have been spackled.

And then the paint. New color on the wall marking a new day, a new beginning. A project with a clear end. A sense of completion. It’s good. I may need to tackle another room just because it feels so good.

And now, a thought from Pascal:

“Anyone who tells you to get your ducks in a row has never met a duck. Maaan, they do not follow directions.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 21

It’s so sad to see what is going on across our nation. It’s sad to see the families who are confused, angry, and unsure. And it’s sad to see where it has led so many of us.

There are those who swear this will all go away on November 4. Much like Trump was sure it would fade away months ago, perhaps.

They want to believe it is a political plot because that means they don’t have to really worry. It’s easier to believe — as foolish as it is — that it will all be better when the election is over. They ignore the reality that this is happening across the entire world where almost 800,000 have died in seven months and where more than 20 million have been infected.

Do they REALLY believe that somehow US politics are behind the deaths we saw in Italy, or that we see in Brazil, or India or countless other countries? Or do they believe that those are all phony reports too?

There are some folks who do, I guess. They want to believe that it’s not real. They want their kids to be able to go back to school. They want to go back to work. They want to live their lives. They don’t want to worry. I get it. I’d like that too.

But not all of us are so eager to get back to normal that we are willing to believe the conspiracy theorists who tell us that it will all go away after the election. It won’t.

We have to look beyond the false equivalencies of trying to compare this virus and the almost 175,000 deaths it has caused in our country — so far — to car accidents. Or cancer.

These deaths weren’t accidents that we couldn’t control. They weren’t the inevitable course of a fatal disease. They were deaths from an illness that we could have managed had our leaders acted responsibly and had our people responded collectively. But that didn’t happen.

The folks who don’t believe that COVID is a big deal, keep comparing it to the flu. I hope that they, or their parents, or their children don’t get it. I hope they don’t get shaken from their denial, like so many have, after losing a parent or falling desperately ill themselves. I hope that they never have to suffer the debilitating and long-lasting consequences of this disease as many have. As many still are.

This is NOT the flu — and we deceive ourselves if we accept that argument.

You can always find someone with a medical license who will tell you a different tale. You can find a politician who dismisses the virus. Hell, the theory that the virus is spread by 5G wifi networks came from an American physician, Thomas Cowan.

But will you listen to the handful, or to the hundreds of experts?

Yes, there are many who are so eager to get back to their lives that they manage to close their eyes to realities they don’t like. They convince themselves that the death tolls are falsified and just another part of some political conspiracy.

They are eager to believe the assertions of political partisans who dismiss the virus but are unwilling to listen to doctors, nurses, public health professionals, and countless others who tell us that the virus is real and a dangerous threat.

They gloss over the stories from the front lines of hospitals in New York, or Texas, or Florida, or Georgia, or Arizona.

I don’t know how they can just dismiss these realities — but they do.

We all want this to be over. It would be great to get back to our lives. That’s what folks wanted in 1918 too. People rushed, they didn’t believe, they didn’t listen… and they died. In huge numbers. Over two years.

There are many who say that they’ll assume responsibility for their own health and the government has no role in telling them what risks are acceptable. They tell us they’ll take their chances. Good for them. But they live in a community. They are part of society. And if they get sick they put all of us at risk.

Of course, they don’t say they’ll assume responsibility for their own firefighting. Or their own policing. They don’t want to assume responsibility for ensuring that our drugs are safe, our water is clean, or that cancer causing chemicals aren’t in our food. And they expect that if there is a hurricane, or flood, or tornado, our government will act, respond, and care.

But when being part of the community is hard, when it disrupts their lives, when it means we ALL have to sacrifice, they want to opt out of being part of that community. That’s when they decide it’s better to “take their chances” — even if their choices put others at risk.

I’m sorry it’s so hard. I’m sorry we’re scared and uncertain and confused and angry. But, when did the art of critical thinking disappear? When did the illusion of magical thinking replace it?

We all feel the pain. We all struggle. But if enough of us can find common ground, if we can listen, and talk to each, and find our way together, we will make it through. Together.

And now, on the Friday morning, a word from Pascal as we head into the weekend:

“An empty milk carton in the fridge just means someone’s not quite ready to accept the truth, maaan.” Stick that in your skillet and let it simmer.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 20

You can’t make this stuff up. Our jaws should be on the floor, but, by now, they’d likely be dislocated if they dropped as often as has been warranted under this President.

But yesterday was another of those days that not only shocked me but scared me.

Trump, talking about QAnon conspiracy theorists said “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

He claimed he didn’t know much about their views… you know… their beliefs that satanists and pedophiles are running a deep state government in America. They also have some great theories about cannibals being part of the plot, about the schemes behind “black lives matter” protests, and about 5G networks spreading the coronavirus.

Do I find it strains credulity to believe Trump hasn’t heard all this? Yes.

Is he really that clueless? If he is, it shows how little he reads and it also demonstrates a reckless irresponsibility for him, as President, to not do his homework before saying things in favor of these frightening crackpots that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorist threat.

But then, this President is not known for judicious, thoughtful discourse. He went on to say that he had heard that the QAnon crowd liked how tough he was on protestors in Portland. “I’ve heard these are people who love our country…” he said of them. Yep. Just like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, or the armed men who threatened governors and other officials trying to enforce covid shut-downs. They are all, according to Trump, “Very good people.”

The lack of judgment and responsibility in those remarks is horrific. But, if we assume he knows exactly what he is doing and what QAnon is, then his remarks go beyond irresponsible and foolish, to become dangerous and sinister.

Last night Barack Obama warned that Trump will do whatever he has to in order to hold onto power. And cultivating conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and gun-toting far-right haters spoiling for a fight, is part of the agenda.

It’s all frightening. But it all seems to fit with the equally troubling reports from a former senior official in Homeland Security, Miles Taylor. Trump, he said, wouldn’t focus on briefings on national security threats. He was only interested in the things that affected his image, his interests and his prospects for reelection.

Anything else and he’d fidget and be distracted. He’d get confused. He wouldn’t read the briefers but, his team discovered, he loved… pictures. So officials would try to put compelling graphics in reports hoping to catch his attention. (How sad is THAT for a President of the United States).

He was persuaded to endorse evacuation orders in the face of a hurricane — over his initial objections — only after he was told if his supporters died in the storm it might be harder for him to win the state in the next election.

It’s all about him. It always is. It always has been. And Taylor has repeatedly, despite death threats and attacks from the right, voiced his concern that Trump will do everything in his power to discredit the polls — including sending an army of lawyers to challenge the results and throw the nation into disarray and confusion.

Of course, Trump and his team say Taylor is a “disgruntled former employee.” The say “he wasn’t very good at his job.” But they say that every time. Just how many disgruntled folks who are good at their jobs did this supposed business wizard hire? A lot, it seems.

The scary thing is that Taylor’s assertions ring true, and they echo the similar assertions made by others who have seen Trump at first hand.

And Taylor’s fears reinforce the urgency of President Obama’s call last night for us to act. Obama warned that we cannot let our democracy be taken from us by a man who doesn’t take the Presidency seriously, who refuses to do the work , and who doesn’t even make the effort to lead. We cannot let our democracy be taken from us by a man who has no respect for our constitution, our system of governance, or for us… the men and women of this nation that he was elected to serve.

I worry that we are indeed in for frightening times. I’ve seen this play out in authoritarian states in which I served. Nations where elections were hijacked and where would-be dictators unleashed violence in the streets and then used it as an excuse to crack down on those who would oppose them. You don’t think it can happen in America? You believe that our long traditions of democratic elections and our innate sense of decency and fair play will protect us? Don’t bet on it.

We’re not immune from these threats. And we have to recognize the risks and fight for our future. We have to do this for our children and grandchildren.

Never in my lifetime have I been so troubled about the future of our nation. This isn’t being alarmist. It isn’t hype. It’s a realistic assessment of what we face, informed by the lessons of history.

And this comes in the midst of a pandemic that will likely be as bad as ever, if not worse, come Election Day. We have already lost over 173,000 lives and, as we continue to drown under the FIRST wave of the virus (that has never ended here) it seems as though the second wave may be starting elsewhere in the world.

And, as cases rebound in Europe and Japan and Korea, we are re-opening schools in many parts of the country (even though we have now learned that kids aged 10 and up can spread the disease every bit as efficiently as adults).

It’s a disaster. And although Trump did not cause the virus, the total ineptitude of the US response, the extreme spread of the virus across our nation, and the fact that we have a quarter of the world’s deaths — all that has to be laid at Trump’s doorstep.

The virus means that voting will be more challenging for many. And Trump has been clear that he wants to make it harder by gutting the postal service and undermining the credibility and efficacy of mail-in voting.

We shouldn’t be surprised though. Voter suppression has been part of the Republican strategy for years. It’s just that now white voters are feeling it as well. Now we’re learning what has been the reality for men and women of color in our nation for years. And the fact that we’re all in the same boat doesn’t make it feel any better.

So President Obama was right in saying we have to make a plan — right now —for how we will vote. NOW.

In Virginia, early voting starts on September 19th. My ballot will be cast before the first week is out. I’ll go in-person. There will likely be fewer people at any given time over the 6 weeks leading up to the polls than I encounter in the grocery store. I’ll be masked and carrying hand sanitizer and I’ll follow all the protocols. But I’ll vote. And I’ll bug everyone I know to do so as well.

If ever an election mattered, this one does. This isn’t about our political views. It is more fundamental than that. More existential. This is about our democracy and our nation’s future. We’ve got a fight on our hands and need to be part of it.

Last night, Kamala Harris gave a powerful and touching speech in accepting the VP nomination. I’ll be proud to vote for her as well as for Joe Biden. And she touched a chord when she said we are grieving as a nation.

◆We are grieving for those we have lost.
◆We are grieving for those whose lives have been forever changed by this virus.
◆We are grieving for the loss of normalcy, for the loss of jobs, for the loss of certainty.
◆We are grieving for the loss of hope.
◆We are grieving for the loss of decency.

We are grieving for so much. We cannot let the loss of our democracy and our integrity as a nation be added to the list.

I’ll share no words from Pascal today. He’ll be back tomorrow. But today we need to make our voting plans. That’s what matters.

We will stand or we will fall as a nation. We the people… we will decide.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 19

Some economic advisor at the White House was pontificating on the virus today. He noted that cases are down from their peak in July. Well, big whoop! Excuse me, but being “down” to 50,000 or so cases a day is not something we should be cheering. Even 20,000 cases a day — which is where we were after shutting down through April — wasn’t anything to brag about.  

So when this guy, who no one has ever heard of, claims that the “mitigation efforts are working” I get a bit annoyed.  As if this administration can take any credit of the mitigation efforts that ARE underway — efforts that are being led by states and by individuals who are making a difference.

No, if anything this administration — and more specifically this president and his campaign team — are undermining the mitigation efforts every time we turn around.

Yesterday, it was in Yuma, Arizona. Not only has Arizona been a huge hot spot but this county has had over a 28% positivity rate. Still they had a rally. The had to put people together on buses for a 30-40 minute drive to the airplane hanger where the event was held. Then they had them packed into the hanger for a longer period waiting for the event to begin.

There was no social distancing. Again. There were very few masks. Again. And we can guess how this story will end. Again. 

Will Trump never learn? Is there no sense of responsibility? No sense of duty to keep people safe? This is the lack of common sense, the lack of understanding, and the callous indifference that undermines mitigation. 

It makes me nuts. 

In contrast, as I’ve watched the Democratic National Convention the past few nights I’ve been struck by the tone. Sure, they’re critical of Trump but in some ways he’s the afterthought. Instead, we’re hearing about the values that have shaped Joe Biden and in which he believes. We are hearing a message of optimism. Of promise. And we’re being offered a vision of the America that is far different than the vision we’re living at present. 

It gives me a measure of hope. And that feels awfully good. It feels so needed, right now. 

And what will we get next week with the Republican National Convention? We’ll get messages of fear and anger and division. We’ll get Trump’s dystopian vision of an America where it’s us vs. them, and where, if your skin isn’t white and if you aren’t his brand of Christian, then you need not apply. That America isn’t for you. You’re part of the “them.” 

Anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-Black Lives Matter. That’s what we’ll get. Featured speakers will include Patricia and Mark McCloskey — the Mississippi couple who are infamous for a video in which they point guns at protestors marching through their gated community as part of the Black Lives Matter outcry following George Floyd’s murder. I can hardly wait.

I feel as though I should watch, but I really don’t want to. I’m so tired of being angry. I’m tired of the fear mongering and hate and the ugliness. 

Give me hope any day. We can sure use it. 

It’s not too early to order your absentee, mail-in ballot requests! And make sure you are registered to VOTE whether it’s by mail or in-person! 

And now for a word from Pascal… 

“Ice is just water that’s lost its spirit of adventure, maaan.” 

Here’s to adventure. Here’s to hope.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 18

I get so annoyed when I see blatant stupidity — equally, blatant BS — being touted as fact or offered to try and justify incompetence and failure. Trump, last night, seized on the fact that New Zealand has had some new cases. I mentioned this the other day. They have had, I believe, an outbreak of 50 cases in Auckland. 50. Five. Zero. They had nine new cases yesterday.

We had what…maybe 50 THOUSAND yesterday? And 50,000 the day before that And the day before that.

In New Zealand, 50 cases is an emergency. They act immediately. They postponed their elections. They’re taking every step they can to limit spread and exposure. To them 50 cases is a crisis requiring action. To Trump 50,000 cases “is what it is.”

Still, last night, Trump said “Even New Zealand, did you see what’s going on in New Zealand? ‘They beat it, they beat it.’ It was like front page, they beat it, because they wanted to show me something,” he added. “The problem is, big surge in New Zealand… it’s terrible.”

Oh yes… Trump wants us to believe that “see… we’re doing fine. Even New Zealand can’t control it… so, there.” The only thing he didn’t do was stick out his tongue and say “nana nana boo boo.”

Any rational person knows that New Zealand’s current outbreak doesn’t tell us that we’re doing OK… or that we were wrong to criticize the administration’s failure to act and to lead. No… what New Zealand’s response to this small outbreak tells us is that THIS is how we needed to act. We need firm, immediate, strong leadership.

If Trump wants to compare us to New Zealand then let him lead like PM Jacinta Arden. Let HIM get us 100 days without a single case being reported, as she and her nation did, and then he can make all the comparisons he wants. But, for him to suggest that the current outbreak of fifty or so cases in New Zealand is in any way comparable to what we’re experiencing or that it suggests that New Zealand ISN’T handling this 100 times better than us… well, it’s just nonsense.

But such nonsense is what he is best at. Perhaps he is offering this line of BS because he thinks we’re stupid and will buy into anything he says. Or perhaps he is so capable of self-delusion that he actually believes what he says. Either explanation is unpalatable.

Sadly, there are those who will listen to him, nod, and say “ok… yup.” There are those for whom he can do no wrong. The true believers. And then there are others who don’t really want to think… they just go along. And as long as you plant a seed of doubt… offer an excuse, however flimsy… they’ll buy into it. Perhaps THAT is what he is counting on.

But let’s be clear. No matter the spin or the Trumpian BS, when it comes to the pandemic that is ravaging our nation there is no comparison with New Zealand. Period. We have failed. Trump has failed.

Trump sells fantasy. Let’s hear a different version of this tale. You would have seen it last night if you had watched the Democratic National Convention. You would have heard the pain in the voice of Kristin Urquiza, the daughter of an Arizona man who lost his life to Covid-19.

Kristin said of her father, “his only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.” Her dad was 65. He was a Trump supporter who believed Trump when he said that if you’re healthy you’ve got nothing to fear— it’s just like a little flu. He believed Trump when he said the virus was going away… he believed Trump when he said we could go back to normal. And so her dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza went to a Karaoke bar with friends. He got the virus. He was put on a respirator. And in five days he was gone.

“One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump,” Kristin said last night. She is not alone.

We have a friend who has experienced COVID-19. It was, just as all the reports tell us, horrible. And even after recovery, the weakness, the brain fog, the challenges to manage even normal exertion… it’s all what you hear. And more.

This is a scary disease. This isn’t the flu. And the failure to realize that. The failure to act with the urgency and decisiveness of a New Zealand, the failure to listen to the public health experts, the failure to set aside ego and political gain for the good of the nation have all exposed us to great risk of contracting it.

That is Trump’s legacy. No matter how he spins it.

Last night, Michelle Obama said, “the Presidency doesn’t CHANGE who you are… it REVEALS who you are.” And this election, she said, will reveal who WE are as a nation.

We can’t stand four more years of this. We will not only break beyond repair, we will shatter. I pray for better than that for our country, for our kids and for our grandkids. I think most of us do.

I’ll close, as I have recently, with a thought from Pascal… he has lots of them!

“It’s really easy to forget you have toes… until you stub one. Then it’s like, ‘What are these things, man?’ Think about it. You’ve been truthed, maaan.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 17

So here we are, already in the second half of August. Before we know it summer will be waining. It seems hard to believe that we’ve spent most of this year in semi-Isolation. It’s a bit sad, but we know it’s the right thing to do.

Soon, as we slide into fall, we’ll need to arrange to get the flu vaccine at a minimum. We also should probably consider whether we need to do other “routine maintenance” visits. We’ve put things off, never knowing at the outset that we’d still be struggling with these issues to this extent even six months into the pandemic. Making these choices will be another of the balancing acts we have to manage.

We’re not alone of course. And even countries that have managed the virus well are having new struggles. New Zealand has postponed elections by four weeks in the face of a new outbreak in Auckland. South Korea is seeing a spike in cases again. Worldwide, we’re at over 21 million infections and are closing in on 800,000 deaths.

If someone had suggested to us last August that we’d be threatened with a virus that could kill that many globally — or that we’d see more than 1,000 people a day die of the virus by THIS August, we would have been stunned, shocked, and angry. We might also have been energized to make sure such a calamity was avoided. Now… we’re just numbed… the numbers and the stories and the deaths seem to have lost their capacity to shock us, and that, in itself, is pretty disheartening.

That’s not all that’s disheartening, however.. The squabble over the post office and Trump’s efforts to derail efforts to make voting easy and straightforward during these difficult days (even as he sends out absentee ballots with his picture on them in North Carolina to those he believes will support him. The hypocrisy is mind boggling but we have become numbed to that too, I fear. We’re in danger of losing our capacity for outrage — easy to do when so much is outrageous.

Today there are reports about plans to start drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It breaks my heart. The pristine beauty of the Alaskan wilderness is beyond compare. There may be some big companies that will benefit… maybe… but I don’t believe our nation or its citizens will gain from the destruction of this incredible wilderness. This too is outrageous, but it gets lost in the all the other nonsense. There is so much this administration has done this way… so much lost in the clamor.

We can only hope that between now and the election there’s not enough time for much more damage to be done and if (when) there is a new administration we can shift course on this and so many things. We can hope.

If you care. Act. I’ll probably say that… or things like it… a lot in the weeks ahead. And if it gets one more person to the polls… one more donation to support Biden or to win control of the Senate or preserve the house… it will be worth the repetition.

So that’s it for Monday. Perhaps there will be something more newsworthy than my rambling observations to share tomorrow.

Meanwhile, for the Pascal fans among you, here’s an offering of otter wisdom:

“If kayak is still kayak backward, how do you know if you’re saying it in the right direction? Think about it…”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 16

So who remembers Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy?” Every time Lucy plunged them into a jam that seemed particularly daunting he’d do a forehead palm and say “ay yi yi, yi yi.”

Well… that’s what I want to say today — and every day of late.

As I said yesterday, this pandemic takes an emotional and mental toll on us all. It’s exhausting. How many times can you go through the litany of deaths, the rise in infections here, the fall of infections there. You know it will start all over again tomorrow. Even countries that had things under control are seeing the pandemic fight back. What’s it going to continue to be like here, where we have not yet even brought it under a semblance of control.

Here, to give you a flavor of where we are six months along, are a few of the headlines.

•The CDC’s ensemble forecast now projects nearly 189,000 US coronavirus deaths by September 5.

•Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that if the US allows coronavirus infections to run rampant to achieve possible herd immunity, the death toll would be massive, especially among vulnerable people.

•Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves insisted that his state’s Covid-19 cases are under control despite a 23% positivity rate. (Blogger’s note: and on just what planet does this suggest it’s under control?)

•The US has reported more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths nearly every day this month

•South Korea orders thousands of church members to be tested

•The US reported nearly 48,000 new cases today

•Cluster of Covid-19 cases identified at University of North Carolina fraternity

•Nine Oklahoma Sooners test positive for COVID-19 after returning from break

•CDC blindsided by Trump’s statement that it could deploy teams to schools this fall

•The True Coronavirus Death Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000

•Reds-Pirates Weekend Baseball Series Postponed By Positive COVID-19 Player

And so it goes. On and on. There’s no shortage of news. What there is, is a shortage of action. A failure to lead, to act, and to care. What there is, is a failure to put our nation and our citizens first. What there is, is a failure to set aside partisanship and to quit fueling division and fear, hoping that it will get you reelected. I could… as anyone who has seen some of my other posts knows… go on. At length. I’ll refrain, though. You get the idea.

I said yesterday I was heartened by the number of folks wearing masks when I went out yesterday. And I’m heartened when I see some Republicans who are putting the future of the nation ahead of the future of the party. Perhaps they’re trying to position themselves for a post-Trump party or perhaps they’re just simply troubled, as so many are, by the failures we’ve seen from the White House. But it gives me hope that we may see a return to a semblance — even a pretense — of sanity in terms of governance in the days ahead.

The Lincoln Project is one such effort. Their messaging is impressive. I’m donating to help ensure that their ads air broadly in key states across the nation. Seventy-nine days left until elections. If every day, we all chose to message someone about voting, to donate ourselves or encourage others, to post an article, slap on a bumpersticker, build momentum, it would be a start. A change in administration will not bring miracles overnight. The virus won’t disappear, racism won’t unleash its hold, the environment won’t be restored, gun violence won’t be curbed, and a new path forward to more equitable economic governance won’t suddenly appear. But none of that will have a chance of happening without a change.

It’s a start. It’s a time to renew hope. Let’s make it happen. It begins, and ends, with us.

And now, here’s Pascal with today’s words of wisdom:

“I knew a bull once. He ran a real successful china shop. So, don’t generalize, maaan. Just… don’t.”

Stay Strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 15

This is day 156 of writing daily. Some days are easier than others.

Today is one of those days when it’s not as easy. I don’t think I’m that much different from many. We went this morning to Costco. We had to pick up some meds for our pup who has had seizures on multiple occasions following dental surgery in early July. They’re under control with the meds and their origin so far is uncertain. But she’s pretty much herself (Gracie is going on 13 years old but is still full of life and personality) and we’re hoping for the best.

I was heartened to see that everyone we saw in Costco today was masked. The same was true for our stop at Lowe’s on the way home. It really is good news because it is so important if we’re ever going to overcome the challenges posed by this pandemic. It’s up to us, and that means we have to show the responsibility to lead.

I know that not everyone is acting responsibly, but today, at least, it was good to see. But, even though folks were trying to keep their distance and wore their masks, I realized I didn’t like being there. Or in Lowe’s. The pandemic has made me skittish about such places. There are too many horror stories. Too many tales of people who have fallen ill and had experiences that were devastating and debilitating. It has an impact after awhile.

We’re all trying to adjust. The rush for grocery delivery has eased. Toilet paper is in stores again (though not disinfecting wipes), and I don’t hear about senior hours or folks volunteering to go to the store for the elderly. We’ve settled into this new reality and are all learning to fend for ourselves and make our own decisions as to risk tolerance — because we’re inevitably going to have to accept a degree of risk. And that constant balancing, as we try to get the equation right, is hard, too.

It wears you down and today I am looking to recharge my batteries. But I’m not having much luck. I had looked forward to finally being able to put up a flag today. It’s something I’ve wanted to do almost since we moved here back in 2015. I may deplore some of choices our national leadership has made in the past few years and struggle not to weep as we — in my view — abandon the core values for which we have always stood. But my feelings about the policy choices and the current leadership do not lead me to love our country any less nor turn my back on the values that guided my professional life. And over the decades of my service, I came to see our nation’s flag as the symbol of all the sacrifices made by the men and women with whom I served — foreign service, civil service, and armed forces. All of them.

As I would watch the Marines post the colors at some ceremonial event, or as I’d place my hand over my heart as our anthem was played, it would get me every time — the pride I felt in looking at my colleagues, pride in our service, and the pride in our nation for the good we did every day and for the values for which we stood.

And so, I wanted to fly a flag outside our home. I just never got it done — much to my frustration. Then, when we had some repair work done recently the folks who did it assured us that the material that frames our front door and on which the house numbers were fixed could, indeed, hold a flag. No worries. They attached the bracket for us and today I placed a new flag and pole into the bracket.

Half an hour later, the flag was on the ground, the bracket too, and three rather unsightly holes now grace the place where the bracket was so confidently placed a couple of weeks ago.

The holes will be repaired (I still don’t know EXACTLY what this funky non-wood material is) and the quest for a side-mounted flag bracket goes on. We’ve resisted because to mount it on wood means putting is up far higher — on the side of the garage — where a ladder will be required to put it up and take it down. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best we’re going to get. And we’ll do it because I’m determined that flag will fly.

Somehow, the frustrations I felt today as I struggled with the flag, (and I did try again repeatedly using different screws and different anchors all to no avail) mirrored in many ways how I’m feeling as I look at our nation, at this pandemic, and at the idea of months more of concerns about social distancing and mask wearing and watching more people — perhaps some I know and love — suffer and die, because we didn’t act effectively when we could have kept this under control.

It’s not a cheerful thought. But these aren’t cheerful times. And perhaps it was knowing this, and knowing that if I started to write something along these lines, it would likely come out that way… less than cheerful. And that made me reluctant to write at all today. But here we are. It’s done. 156 days. And god only knows how many more lie ahead.

Here’s another thing to ponder though… a thought from Pascal.

“I see a lot of stationary bicycles, but never any stationary unicycles. They must all be at the clown-college gyms.“ Think about THAT. It’s a good diversion.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 14

“Warning: May contain news harmful to your mental health.”

I’m beginning to think that news these days should perhaps add a mandatory warning like the above on it.

How very disheartening it can be to read it. But if we don’t read and learn and understand, we’re no good to anyone. So, we’ll have to accept the risks to our mental well-being and just carry on.

Of course, not everyone would agree with that approach. Clearly for some this is the summer of magical thinking. The kind of thinking that convinces you we can reopen schools even in areas where the positivity rate is skyrocketing and community spread Is already rampant.

It’s the sort of thinking that convinces us that all can be normal, that bars and restaurants can go forward full throttle, and public health won’t suffer.

It’s the sort of magical thinking that Brian Kemp, Georgia’s governor obviously believes in, and he is destroying his state while he blinds himself to what we all can see.

Even as the White House Coronavirus Task Force has offered harsh criticism of his failed leadership on the pandemic, he pushes on in the model of his hero, Donald Trump. The Task Force has issued an urgent call for a mask mandate. Kemp refuses. It has called for restaurants and bars to close in the worst hit parts of the state and to limit customers in others. Not in Brian Kemp’s Georgia. It has urged the public gatherings be limited to 10 or fewer. No to that too.

Again and again, Kemp, and sadly, numerous other governors (all Republicans) slavishly followed —not the Task Force’s advice founded in science — but Trump’s advice founded in magical thinking and a desire to convince people all is normal — even at the cost of people’s lives.

This is not to say that some Democratic governors haven’t made bad choices — waiting too long, or not getting the balance right. But their errors of judgment far more often reflected just how tough it is to manage this pandemic, and not willfully disregarding facts and science.

I try not to be angry, but it’s hard NOT to be angry every day when you read the news. The Public Health Service’s Admiral Brett Giroir who leads the testing effort was miffed yesterday with reporters pushing him on testing. He seems to truly believe that they don’t get it. They don’t understand the great strides we’re making. They don’t understand the logic of the administration’s approach.

Except it’s not just the reporters who are are confused. It’s virtually every public health expert you hear from. Testing is DROPPING in some places at a time when everyone else says increased testing is critical. Extensive testing, fast results, contact tracing. That’s what we need, they all say, and that’s how many other countries who have fared far, far better than us got a handle on the pandemic.

Experts say we need perhaps 4.5 million tests a day — especially as schools reopen. And we need fast results. Not ten days. Not a week. Not three or four days. Fast. But we aren’t fast and we’re testing MAYBE 700,000 a day. About 16% of what most public health officials would persuasively argue we need. And this is after six months of fighting the pandemic.

I don’t give a crap that Admiral Giroir feels misunderstood. So many of us try to be responsible to protect ourselves and others, but our sacrifices and efforts are not matched by our so-called leaders. They have failed us; on testing, on PPE, on leadership, on vision, and on commitment. Am I ticked off? You bet. And you should be too. All of us should be.

And that’s before we get to the toxic world of politics where the birthers are now trying to make a case the Kamala Harris, born in Oakland to immigrant parents, is somehow not eligible to be Vice President. And these claims are teased out by Trump who makes sure that everyone hears about them on his Twitter feed. The same man who was relentless in leading the birther charge against President Obama.

Make no mistake as to what this is about. Once again, we have voices suggesting that a person of color is somehow ineligible. It has nothing to do with their concern for our nation, or the constitution, or the rule of law, because the arguments are specious. It is about one thing only. It’s about the same underlying belief in white supremacy, white privilege, white control, that has sustained the systemic racism that has driven the protests across our nation this summer.

Oh, yes… our politics will be toxic and ugly — and made all the uglier by the dog whistle politics of Trump warning “suburban housewives” that somehow low income black and brown people will overwhelm their idyllic white suburban communities if Biden and Harris are elected. And he warned it would all be overseen by Senator Cory Booker who, in case you didn’t know, is yet another person of color.

Here’s the bottom line. We aren’t going back to the 1950s. America is NOT a white nation. Coal is not king. And women aren’t “suburban housewives” who mindlessly look to Trump for salvation.

But racism won’t die readily. It’s a lot like the virus. The romanticized vision of the America of the past won’t die easily, either, and the vision of a more just, more equitable America that cares about all its citizens won’t be realized if we don’t fight for it.

So, yeah. We not only have to fight a pandemic — because our leaders clearly won’t — but we have to fight against their racism, bigotry, and their desperate struggle to protect the wealth and the privilege of the elite — the essentially white elite — at all costs.

The news will continue to be hazardous to our health, but avoiding it will be far more dangerous. It’s going to be a hell of a few months, to say the least.

But… for just a moment if you want a distraction… perhaps Pascal’s message of the day will help:

“Isn’t your birthday just the anniversary of something somebody else did? Think about it, maaan.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 13

So, here we are. Yet another day in what has to be the strangest year I can recall living through. There have been strange events in the past… historic moments… even frightening and shocking moments, like we experienced on 9/11. But never have we had such a sustained period of continued risk and challenges compounded by an almost total failure of political leadership.

And it’s an election year on top of everything else which only compounds the craziness. As we look ahead, there are few signs that things are going to get any better.
We can be grateful, I guess, for the degree of social distancing that many of us have done and to all of those who are wearing masks routinely and wearing them correctly. Those measures have, without question made a difference and cut infections and saved lives.

But, although they have saved us from an even greater national crisis, they have not been enough to keep us from still experiencing some of the worst numbers in the world. And I believe, as I say almost every day, that we are far from out of the woods.

The CDC Director warned again yesterday that we will face the “worst fall from a public health perspective that we’ve ever had” as a nation, if we don’t heed the guidelines. Yet there are 250,000 bikers attending a super-spreader biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. THEY aren’t following any guidelines that I can see, and they’ll disperse to their homes across the nation opening up that many more avenues for the infection.

And, of course, we still continue to struggle with the issue of whether we can send kids safely back to school in areas where new infections and positivity rates are far from meeting CDC guidelines. The answer, based on initial experience, seems to be ‘no.’ In Georgia alone, a state that was so determined to reopen, many of those schools that went boldly ahead — sure that they could keep kids safe — are already closed as almost 2,000 teachers and kids are in quarantine due to new cases arising.

How many more will we see? We’ll have to wait and see, but this is exactly what so many warned about. We’ve been told repeated that kids hardly get the disease, but recent numbers showing dramatic increases in infections in kids has proven that false. We’re also told — by Trump and his surrogates — that even IF the kids get it, they don’t spread it. Seems like we’re in the process of proving that false too.

Time and again we’re being shown that we don’t know what this disease is capable of and we only dig ourselves deeper into the COVID hole we’re mired in when we allow politically motivated wishful thinking to push us to take risks that science tells us we should not.
And the president? He’s too busy worrying about getting reelected to lead or to worry about the virus. It’s almost frightening to listen to him. The rambling unfocused diatribes. It’s getting worse and it’s such patent nonsense that it’s scary to listen to him. No wonder folks in his administration take such care with what they even share with him.

Just yesterday in one interview, what did we get from Trump? Well… how about the end of cows? He said of Biden and Harris: “They don’t want to have cows, they don’t want to have any form of animals.” He also told the Fox Business audience that there will be “no fossil fuels… basically, no energy,” and he warned that cities would need to be rebuilt “because too much light gets through the windows… let’s rip down the Empire State Building.” And, there “will be no airplanes… almost no cars.”

And all of the crazies out there — and there is a segment of our society who deserve that title — will seize on this as gospel. QAnon followers will cry out about those satanist pedophiles, those dreaded civil libertarians, those despicable democrats… who seek to not only take their guns, but their… cows. And to them, it will all make sense.

But, Trump didn’t stop there as he enumerated his litany of fears and woes in the interview. He also attacked his FBI Director — yep… yet another of HIS appointees who has proven to have failed the Donald Trump loyalty test. He challenged Bill Barr to be “great” rather than “politically correct.” (Which for those of us learning the new English as spoken by Trump means, I think, that Bill Barr can be great if he only disregards the constitution and the law and blindly does the bidding of a president who doesn’t believe there should be any limits on his power and authority.)

It doesn’t stop there. It was distressing to hear him struggle — and fail — to articulate any vision for his second term and why he should be trusted with another term in office.
This inarticulate and bumbling man, who spends his time name-calling, insulting his foes, bullying the less powerful, and inventing ever more outrageous narratives that feature him as the hero in dramas of his own creation, will become increasingly desperate when the world in which the rest of us live does not match that internal narrative.

And that’s what we have to look forward to. More “crazy” in a year of unrivaled strangeness.
Maybe that’s why I’d rather listen to Pascal, a laid-back otter from a game that offers a far more kinder and gentler view of the world, than Trump’s dark and dystopian ramblings about the future.

So here’s Pascal’s quote of the day:

“Folks say you can’t have too much of a good thing, but after three gallons of ice cream, it stops feeling true.”

I’m not sure if he’s right about that one, but something tells me I should try to find out.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

Image may contain: food

August 12

There are times I struggle with the English language. I get confused because words apparently no longer mean what I was always taught they meant.

For example. The word “tragedy.” I always thought I understood it. But apparently not. Because yesterday Donald Trump declared that if college football players don’t take the field this fall it will be a tragedy.

But, when over 160,000 Americans have died from a pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down the president says “it is what it is.”

So you get my confusion right? I would have thought the horrible human toll of this virus would be a tragedy. I really would. College football being cancelled? Not so much.

But, Mike Pence would tell me I’m wrong. Mike Pence, the more polite version of Donald Trump, tells us that America “NEEDS” college football. That’s what he said. We NEED college football.

We don’t. We really don’t. And how and why this would be the priority for Trump and Pence is just beyond me. We all would like the world to be normal. We would all like the pandemic to be gone. But it isn’t.

Even as the cases trend down, the death tolls of over 1,000 a day remind us of how serious this virus is. Florida and Georgia both had their highest death days yet.

But the governors of Florida and Georgia, both Trump allies, refuse to even issue a state-wide mask order. Hell, the governor of Florida is trying to recruit athletes from schools that won’t allow them to play to come to Florida. How callous and crass. Money and sports are more important than people’s lives, I guess. THAT is a tragedy.

God only knows what we’re going to get next. What will happen with the kids who DO go back to school? What will happen with those schools who DO authorize fall sports. How many more real tragedies will we have to suffer? Some universities are putting the big dollar revenues of their sports programs over the welfare of the players — and the students, and family members, and others who will be exposed if they become super spreaders.

Some of these schools offer the hollow assurances that they “are confident” in their safety measures. So were the states that reopened too early. But they still ended up with a disaster. And I fear that reopening schools and allowing college sports will be a disaster too.

Trump says the players are so healthy… they’ll be fine. But already we’re seeing cases of myocarditis — damage to the heart that may trouble these young men for the rest of their lives — among those athletes who have experienced the disease. But Trump ignores that and he doesn’t worry that they’ll infect their family members. He just keeps talking. And he’s wrong on every count. But that’s nothing new.

The governor of South Dakota won’t issue an order either. She seems to have no concern at all that up to a quarter of a million bikers from all over the nation are holding a ten day rally in Sturgis. It’s the 80th annual Biker Rally, but this time there is a pandemic. There’s no social distancing, there are virtually no masks, people are cheek by jowl at concerts and in bars — and no one seems concerned. And when the Rally ends they will fan out across the nation. How many more will they infect?

No. We’re not done with this yet.

You can’t help but dream… and I do. I have this crazy dream about having a government that works. About having leaders who care. About folks who know what the word tragedy means. About a President who puts the lives of our citizens and fighting this pandemic above college football. About having a Vice President who knows we need racial and economic justice a hell of a lot more than we “need” college football.

And yes… I’m dreaming about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And yes… I applaud Vice President Biden’s choice of Senator Harris as his running mate.

A woman. A black woman. A South Asian woman. A leader. A fighter. She is smart, she is tough, she is strong, and she will be a partner who is truly a partner for Joe Biden. Not just an afterthought but a real partner. And we need them both because the challenges that they will confront after they win — and we have to do everything we can to ensure that happens — will be incredibly daunting.

This is a team I can believe in. It’s a team that gives me hope. And we need hope now more than ever.

I don’t believe we are a nation beyond repair. But we are damaged. Broken. And another four years of Trump and Pence will, I fear, take us over the edge. Another of their supporters just won a congressional primary in Georgia. Trump calls Marjorie Green a “real winner” and a “future star” of the Republican Party.

Read about her. PLEASE read about the woman Trump calls a real winner. A woman who believes that Trump is under attack from a deep state led by satanists and pedophiles. A woman who believes that Muslims have no place in our government. A woman who brandishes a rifle and threatens “antifa protestors.” She’s a real gem. She’s the future that Trump wants for his party, I guess. She’s the future that he seems to want for America.

And meanwhile, Trump calls Kamala Harris “incredibly nasty.” There you are. Every strong woman. Every woman who challenges him. They are all “nasty.” But, be a bigot and full of hate and anger, and believe all the crackpot theories that are out there, and you’re a “future star. Hmmm. Once again, it seems that words just don’t mean what I thought. Damned confusing.

But let’s get back to the point. Kamala Harris or Marjorie Green. The choice is stark. It is also crystal clear. Biden or Trump. Whose vision of America do you want? This madness has to end. And there is no hope that it will, if we fail to elect Biden and Harris.

So yes… my politics are showing again but it’s not about politics. It’s about stopping the pandemic, it’s about saving lives, it’s about restoring decency and sanity, it’s about ending the madness. We will act or we won’t. But if we won’t… if we fail to donate, and canvass, and message, and VOTE, then Marjorie Green is our future.

Whoooh… I’ve written a lot today, but it’s… just…so…crazy. There are times you need to vent.

And if you’ve read it all the way to the end, let me share these words from Pascal…

“You gotta love feeling the warm sun on your back. It’s like Mother Nature’s putting a sweater on you.”

So now that I’ve vented, I’ll let that warm sun give me hug — and perhaps it will help nurture the hope that I’m feeling today as well.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 11

Not everyone who may see this blog will remember Roseanne Roseannadana from Saturday Night Live. It was back in the very early years of the show. Good god… it may be more than 40 years…THAT is scary. But I digress. Roseanne was a character played by Gilda Radner. And her tagline was… “It’s Always Something.”

And she was right. It is.

Now it’s college sports. Just as Trump once insisted we had to reopen the economy, or reopen churches, or reopen the schools, now he insists that things are fine for resuming college athletics. Let there be football, he urges. He downplays the risks — as he always does — and asserts as he has for months that we’re “doing a great job” of managing the virus.

He conveniently ignores that we have over one quarter of the entire number of global cases. He ignores the deaths. He ignores the facts.

He has, it seems, an incredible ability to dismiss reality. Kids can go back to school. They barely get sick from the virus. It’s OK. But we’ve seen a 90% rise in the number of cases among children. Florida has seen a 137% rise. There are already reports of schools that reopened having to close down.

The fact is, there are far too many places around the country that are seeing positivity rates far in excess of 5% to easily reopen schools or provide testing and contact tracing. And what is true for schools in general is equally true for college sports.

Trump cites the fact that many of the football players want to play. Of course they do. But are we really going to leave the decision to a bunch of 18-22 year olds? Some of them hope for lucrative pro football careers. Some just want to play. I get it. But that’s the same mentality, in many ways, of those who just wanted to get a haircut, or go to the bar, or hang out in the pool, or have a house party.

These are NOT the folks we want making decisions about public health. But Trump wants to tell a tale of normalcy, so he’ll push for schools to reopen and for football to be played no matter what.

Yep… with this guy it’s always something. It’s just that the “something” never makes sense.

How about his idea that he should be added to Mount Rushmore? Yep. Always something.

How about wind farms causing cancer?

How about exercise shortening your life?

How about Sharpie Gate and rerouting the hurricane?

How about his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever?

How about it wasn’t his voice on the Access Hollywood tape?

How about “try hydroxychlororquine… what have you got to lose?” (other than your life.)

How about the virus won’t take hold in America?

How about we’re going down to zero cases in just a short time?

How about the virus will just disappear?

Yes… he said all this and more… much more. The list could go on and on and on and on… because with him, it IS always something.

In Trumpworld you can say whatever you please. Just never admit you’re wrong or mistaken or that you don’t know. Make it up or flat out lie without a care for the consequences for others. Say whatever you want to make yourself look good. Make claims that run from the ridiculous to the dangerous.

That’s America under Donald Trump.

Never have we had a president with such a casual relationship to the truth and never have so many in our nation been willing to pretend that his lies and bullying and incompetency are other than what they are.

It’s aways something… but it’s never before been something like this.

And now, a word from Pascal:

“Owls make terrible news reporters. I mean, they only ever ask the one question, maaan!”

And so it goes.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

Image may contain: 1 person, meme, text that says 'IT'S ALWAYS SOMETHING!!'

August 10

It’s a Monday. I can tell because I have a clear case of the blahs. It doesn’t help that I was awake a few times in the night and then Max, one of our geriatric pups, decided at 5:19 that the call of nature was too strong to wait. So down the stairs we trooped, followed by Gyptse who just had to see what we were up to. Max did his business with alacrity. He too wanted to get back to bed. But there wasn’t a lot more sleep for me. Not the start to the day I might have chosen.

Reading the news didn’t make it much better. A horrible explosion in Baltimore. Trump’s executive orders are sowing confusion, but not providing much help. Or how about this… nearly 100,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 just in the last two weeks of July, according to a new report.


The death toll is rising, but the latest surge seems to be slowing. ONLY 53,000 or so new cases yesterday. It’s kind of shocking that we can see that as good news when two months ago we had gotten the number down to 20,000 a day — which was STILL too high. But 53,000 is better than 70,000, so let’s see it as good news. We sure can use some.
The fact is we have a long way to go. We’ll see many more deaths. We’ll see many more infections. And we’ll see new twists and turns. And that adds to the Monday blahs.

And then there’s the vaccine. Will we rush to judgement? Will Trump put political points ahead of safety and push for a premature release? And what makes this all the more worrisome is that Dr. Hahn, the head of the FDA, has not shown himself willing to push back when the President goes off the rail.

When Trump asserted that 99% of coronavirus cases are “harmless” — something so blatantly false that any of us know it for the nonsense it is, Hahn was unwilling to respond when asked if the President was right. He didn’t want to “get into who is right and who is wrong,” he said. Now, there’s leadership for you.

I know it’s easy to be critical, and Hahn is not the only official who’s sense of bureaucratic self-preservation outweighs his political courage. And maybe by avoiding controversy in public he believes the president will be more amenable to his private counsel. Maybe. But I’ve seen little sign that that strategy has worked yet in this administration, and Hahn’s unwillingness to speak straight makes me nervous since his agency will be a critical player in vaccine release. Think he’ll push back on the president? I’m not taking bets.

And so it goes. Another Monday on which, during the twenty minutes it may have taken me to write this, another 15 people died of the COVID virus in America. That’s what a death every 80 seconds will get you.

As I prepare to adjourn to the kitchen to do some cooking, let me offer this thought from Pascal:

“Some languages have tons of words for snow, or for sunshine. But which one has the most words for pizza?” That’s the sort of question I’d rather ponder. How about you?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

August 9

We’re broken. As a nation that is. So badly broken it makes Humpty Dumpty’s restoration look like child’s play.

Over 5 million Americans have been infected by COVID-19, over 162,000 have died, and the drumbeat of both the infection rate and death toll continues. The poorest and most vulnerable among us have faced devastating job losses, the loss of insurance coverage, and are struggling just to keep going.

But, despite this, the President and Congress can’t look beyond political gamesmanship. They can’t agree on how to help. They’ve already forgotten about police reform, racial equality, systemic reforms to our justice system, and more.

They wrangle and they spat. They talk about principles and their concern for the people but it all feels like theater. And the posturing and bickering will continue to the election… and perhaps beyond.

It seems we have lost our way and are unable to break ourselves free of the cycles of intense partisanship that have so horrifically undercut the very nature and purpose of governance. Trump makes it worse with his crazy executive orders that redefine the power of the presidency and that flaunt the constitution. They may give him some political talking points but they do little to solve problems.

Yes… he makes it worse… hell, he makes everything he touches worse, it seems to me, (yes, my own partisanship is showing). But both sides have lost their way. Virtually nothing is getting done. There is no sense of national purpose or vision and no sense of doing what is best for the nation — for us. Only a determination to do what is best for their narrow partisan interests.

Near the end of my service as a career diplomat, I was increasingly frustrated by the failure of leadership. There was a timidity that had insinuated itself into public service as career officers tried to navigate the fine line between the opposing camps in Washington. Worried that any decision might come under attack by either the right or the left, it often became easier to make no decision at all. And our system became that much more broken on all levels as a result.

I look at the current nonsense in Washington that unfolds while burning issues are left unaddressed and I feel a dismay and worry that runs deep. It leaves me with a feeling of tremendous unease as I contemplate the future of the nation I served.

So, I lose myself in other things. This morning it was tending to the bird feeders. It was repotting plants and getting new ones settled in — Asian Violets, Dragon’s Tongue, Angelwing Begonias, Coleus, prayer plants and more. I checked on the verbena that I trimmed and transplanted in the garden yesterday (it was perky, I’m pleased to report) and I checked on the hibiscus in the front garden that is growing accustomed to its new home.
I skipped the Sunday news shows and I’ll fill the rest of my day with other things because I don’t really want to think about our broken nation — especially when the prospects for fixing it seems so unclear.

My guess is that the week ahead will be more of the same. I’ll inevitably be unable to resist commenting but it doesn’t mean I’ll be happy about it.

But, for today, enough is enough. Off to the grocery store. Before I go, however, let me offer a few words of wisdom from Pascal:

“If the sun didn’t set sometimes, we’d never get to see the other stars.” Wrap your noodle around that, as he would say and enjoy your Sunday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 8

There’s a feel to a day in August. The humidity. The stillness. The verdant greens of June fade… the grass grows more slowly, almost languidly. Certain plants and flowers thrive in the weather… others retreat. In the garden today, I did battle with the verbena that is creeping out over the rocks surrounding the bird feeders. It was a gentle battle. I redirected it a bit. Rerooted some in areas of the slope that will benefit from cover. The coleus were growing vigorously as well but being overtopped by nearby bushes whose slender branches were draping them like green umbrellas. They were close to being lost, so had to be moved.

A flowering plant given us by a visiting friend many months ago… I’ll confess I’m not even sure what it was… has also decided that August suits it. It is now triple in size. It, too, was encroaching on the coleus. No longer. The coleus can breathe again.

And, in the front of the house, there are now hibiscus shrubs where the small tree that toppled in a late-June rainstorm once stood.

These battles are not consequential in the broad scheme of things, but they are worth fighting. They give me pleasure, though, I’ll confess that they are a bit tiring in the heat and sultriness. But once it’s done, it’s worth it.

It gives me a bit of balance as I confront the news. That’s a battle I really can’t fight… other than in terms of assuming personal responsibility and doing my small part of the public health effort.

I shouldn’t worry, I know… Trump once again told his audience yesterday, at his golf club in New Jersey, where he seems to spend so much time, that the pandemic is virtually disappearing. And he seemed unfazed when his golfing cronies who were watching his impromptu press conference booed the reporter who dared to ask about masks… and why so few in the Trump’s orbit at the club couldn’t be bothered to wear them.

I don’t begrudge a President finding some relief from the pressures of the job on a golf course, or in whatever way might work for them. But this man, who criticized Obama for golfing, has far exceeded Obama’s time on the links, has cost taxpayers tens of thousands more, and lined his family’s pockets at the same time when going to his private clubs in Florida, New Jersey, and elsewhere. His hypocrisy is breathtaking in its boldness, and it’s even worse when he’s not even doing the job he is escaping from.

Perhaps it makes him feel good to be surrounded by like-minded wealthy white men and women who cheer his pronouncements that the virus is virtually defeated and all is well. But we know better.

I’m just so tired of being angry and outraged every time he speaks. I’m tired of his lies and self-aggrandizement. Tired of his bullying and bullshit. Time of his whining, his cowardice, his refusal to take responsibility, and his failures — again and again — to act. I’m tired of it all. It wears me out.

But we have to continue to call him out. To point out his lies, to offer facts in place of nonsense, to remind each other of the values that matter. We can’t let them wear us out and convince us that it’s just easier to acquiesce. We just can’t.

That’s why the gardening felt so good today. As tiring as it was. It was within my control. It was a battle I could win. And that’s a nice feeling once in a while.

And now… a word from Pascal:

“The ocean is salty, just like tears. Ever wonder if the earth is just crying it out? You’ve been truthed, maaan.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 7

It’s Friday. Thank God. Honestly.

Although we’re supposed to be at loose ends trying to stay busy while social distancing, it feels like I’m busier than ever. Too busy. And the challenges of being busy are compounded when there is so much anxiety and frustration. So much that makes you want to just pound your head against the wall because it will feel so good when you finally stop. I imagine more than a few of you know what I mean.

I said the other day that I think it is important to look at the facts and challenges of this disease and not focus overly much at the inhabitant of the White House whose incompetence has brought us to this point in time. But when the projections keep getting worse (now folks fear there could be 300,000 deaths by December) and there is still no sense of a national plan, or vision, or even clear guidance, it is his disengagement and refusal to address reality that has a devastating human impact.

Lest I be accused of excessive hyperbole and bias, let’s look at his latest pronouncement. In an interview yesterday with Geraldo Rivera, Rivera observed that there have been many deaths and missteps. He asked Trump if there was anything he might have wanted to do differently.

Obviously, Trump, in giving his answer, must have been sitting in Trumpland, that magical mystical place where the the world is so very different than our own. Here’s what Trump said when asked if he would have done anything differently, “No… we’ve done an unbelievable job…” Unbelievable? For god’s sake.

How can he say that? 160,000 Americans are dead. Close to 5 million are infected. Our economy has been rocked to the core. Vulnerable families are flocking to food banks as unemployment leaves them reeling. We have one of the worst records in the world among developed nations and there are many countries with far fewer resources than ours that have tackled the challenges of the pandemic better.

Unbelievable? Yes indeed. But not in the way that Trump means it.

And, if there are problems, what do you do? You blame the governors. There again, Trump is partly right. There are indeed governors who deserve blame. DeSantis in Florida. Kemp in Georgia. Ivy in Alabama. Noem of South Dakota. There are others too. Trump acolytes who didn’t want to differ with him, and would rather risk the health of their citizens than think or act independently. Perhaps they curried favor with their “great leader” — but at a tremendous cost to the rest of us.

The sad thing is that if Trump cannot see the crisis. If he can’t understand or accept that he has been part of creating it, then he can’t fix it, and he won’t even try. And for another five+ months (assuming that people pass the judgment on him that he deserves in November) we will suffer the consequences of his ineptitude and delusional thinking.

Meanwhile, he continues to parrot nonsense. He keeps telling folks that children are essentially immune. No worries. Send them back to school. I wonder what he’d say to the parents of the 7 year old who died of the disease in Georgia? What does he have to say about the latest reports from the WHO that the proportion of cases in teens and young adults has gone up six-fold, and in very young children and babies the proportion has increased seven-fold.

In America, we had 241,000 kids infected by mid-July and then, in just two weeks, there was a 40% increase in reported cases and the number rose to 338,000 by month’s end. Their positivity rate in various states ranged from 3.8 to 18.4 percent. These kids can infect their siblings, their parents, their grandparents, and their friends, who can then infect THEIR siblings and parents and grandparents. And in Georgia today a school district chose to go virtual for the rest of the semester at least after 90 staff members are forced to go into quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

I’m guessing he doesn’t get those reports in Trumpland. It’s a place inside his head where gets to disregard reality and ignore inconvenient facts. And, when he is next asked the question about schools and kids, guess what… he’ll claim again that kids don’t get it, if the do get it, they don’t get sick, and if they get sick it’s just the sniffles and of course, they don’t spread it to their families. It’s all fine. Unless you’re a seven year old in Georgia.

Have a good weekend and, as Pascal says…

“Remember, even if things are bad, there are always hammocks. You’ve been truthed, maaan”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

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August 6

It’s so very easy to get sucked into focusing our attention — and our ire — on Donald Trump. He’s so very easy to criticize… and deservedly so.

But despite his nonsense, there are at least some responsible adults who are trying. Tony Fauci, Debbie Birx, and the other health officials on the coronavirus task force, are tracking the disease and working with the states in an effort to offer guidance and direction, and to provide assistance where they can. Even the VP has, I think, taken this seriously within the confines of the task force. If only he wouldn’t spoil it all by public remarks that so slavishly adhere to the president’s false narrative that he loses his credibility completely.

The public health professionals are walking a fine line, admittedly, and we need to recognize that — even as we become frustrated when they seem to pander to the president’s crazier ideas, and fail to push back strongly enough when he offers falsehoods and twisted interpretations of science to excuse the failures of his administration. It’s shameful that the issues surrounding the pandemic response have been so distorted. It has cost us lives, it has exposed millions of Americans to the risks of infection, and the economic impact has been devastating. But that’s the president’s doing and I find it hard to believe that Tony Fauci or Debbie Birx or anyone else will fix that.

Even as the professionals do what they can, the disease inexorably continues to spread. Although the situation in places like Arizona may be stabilizing, we see new areas at risk every day, it seems. Debbie Birx and the task force are tracking things closely and the new concerns are focused on the central California valley and nine cities, Omaha, Kansas City, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, DC, Detroit and Baltimore where the positivity rate among those being tested is exceeding 10%. Those numbers, says Dr. Fauci, are predictors of troubles ahead.

Some of these areas already had surges and brought their numbers down, but they are on the rise again. And we will continue to see these new upticks popping up across the nation because we aren’t going to implement the rigorous steps needed to reset the battleground.

Thirty percent of states still have no mandatory mask orders, many of those that do have multiple exceptions and no meaningful enforcement mechanisms. Bars are open, and people are congregating in private gatherings that are far too large and with no consideration of distancing requirements. And still there’s pressure to reopen schools even in areas with high rates of community spread. It’s hard to believe that leaders are serious about stopping this disease when they won’t take the fundamental steps required to do so.

And then there are the doubters, the willfully ignorant, and their foolishness is compounded by the myth of rugged American individualism. We know that combatting this disease is a collective effort, but some of us have convinced ourselves that we don’t have a responsibility to those with whom we share this nation.

They want to believe that their “right” to be themselves and do what they want to do and believe what they want to believe absolves them from any obligation to their fellow citizens. And that’s part of the reason why we see so many stories from people who have become infected and NOW are bemoaning their failure to take things seriously and respecting the advice of those who are working for the collective good.

They were among those who thought the warnings were overblown and that this was a phony virus. And now they have gone through weeks and months of debilitating challenges due to the disease. They’re paying the price of their unthinking disbelief — and this is a story we’ll hear again and again, I fear, for months to come.

I’m glad that Fauci and Birx and others are working hard to track the disease and partner with the state and local leaders. But it’s just not enough. And with the start of flu season only two months away this battle will only become more complicated and managing this disease will be an ongoing problem. That’s just our reality.

Here in America we’re closing in on 5 million infections and 160,000 deaths, in about five months. Globally, it’s about 19 million cases and over 700,000 deaths. That means the US is accounting for over 25% of cases worldwide and almost 23% of the deaths. Another shameful reality when we had the ability and capacity to do so much better.

We can’t control what others will do. But we can can decide what we will do. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing no matter how much you want that hug. Keep us all safe.

And here are a few words of wisdom today from my “friend” Pascal…

“Friendship isn’t a boat you crew alone. You never know when you’ll need all hands on deck for a storm.”

And that’s it for an August Thursday, on this 148th day of blogging my life away.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 5

I had a lot to write about yesterday. Today will be shorter. It has been a busy morning with my work at State and I have work to do this afternoon for the Foundation. Things are getting worse and worse in Nepal, and the response there is as disjointed and confused as it has been in the US. So, there will be plenty to keep me busy today.

Yesterday, I had highlighted Trump’s “it is what it is” comment about the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. IF you thought that was bad, I hope you didn’t watch the rest of his interview with Axios. It really was pretty bad. He was, as usual, short of facts, long on unfounded claims, and bombastic when challenged. He also seemed as poorly informed as any president I have ever seen… and by my age I’ve seen a good number… he was fundamentally just not very smart.

But he is unfazed. In an interview today on Fox News he said again that COVID-19 is spreading in a “relatively small portion” of the country ((it is spreading nearly everywhere); he repeated his nonsensical and false assertion that children are “virtually immune” to the virus, and he maintained yet again that the outbreak will “will go away like things go away.”

He’s been claiming that since March. Some day he may be right. But by then there will be hundreds of thousands who have died, millions more will have been infected and our economy will be in shambles and god only knows what our health care infrastructure will be looking like.

He doesn’t seem to realize he’s in a job where bs can only go so far. Either that or he really is clueless and delusional. But sooner or later, the facts and the truth are going to limit even his crazy attempts to rewrite history and create “alternative facts”. Meanwhile, it’s frustrating, it’s scary, and it’s sad.

And it’s frustrating and scary and sad that the story always ends up being about his incompetence and his idiotic remarks rather than about the steps being taken to counter the virus and to turn the corner.

The good news is that the increase in cases may have slowed a bit. We dropped under 60,000 a day for the first time in weeks yesterday. But that’s a far cry still from the 20,000 a day we were at two months ago and even THAT number was still a too-high plateau level. So, congratulations must be muted at best. And meanwhile, we are at almost 4.8 million infections and 155,000 deaths. There’s little to celebrate in any of this. But we can hope for brighter days and progress. But that will come in spite of this administration, not because of it.

And so we’re now in the downslope of the week. I’ll settle for getting through the next few days without disasters. One day at a time seems a good strategy for now.

To close, here’s another quote from Pascal (who I introduced yesterday for those who don’t know the philosophical otter):

“Cheese is just milk that’s been lucky enough to age gracefully. Wrap your noodle around that, maaan.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 4

There’s so much to think about, and some days offer far more grist for the mill than others. Today is one such day. I’m not even sure where to begin.

Maybe I’ll start with Tony Fauci and schools. I respect him a lot, but when you’re faced to walk a very fine line, there are times that your message can get muddled. At least that’s what it seems. Fauci said again yesterday that our goal — our desired end state — should be getting kids back into classrooms. I think everyone agrees that’s the goal. He qualified his statement, though, noting that we need to do it safely and he laid out all the things that should be done to ensure it is safe. But that part of his message inevitably gets lost and the headline is “Fauci says schools should reopen.”

That doesn’t help. And it doesn’t help when he talks about a desirable end state when it’s conditioned on low rates of community spread, the widespread availability of rapid testing, the ability to do effective contact tracing, and more — in addition to masks and hand washing and distancing. The fact is that we haven’t yet mastered these issues of ensuring testing, doing tracing, keeping community spread low, etc. What on earth makes Fauci think that schools across the nation will be able to do that now without significant help? It just seems inconceivable to me — especially now when community spread is such an issue in so many places.

Dr. Fauci said it’s important to get the kids back because of the psychological impact of remaining isolated, because of the nutritional component and because of the challenges for working parents. All of those are important points. Schools do more than just educate and these other functions are important.

But, if those points are so critical that Tony Fauci says we have to have to get kids back to school, then why aren’t we prioritizing the steps that will get them back there? Why are we not closing the bars to fight community spread? Why aren’t we making masks mandatory nationwide? Why aren’t we limiting public gatherings? Why aren’t we seriously considering a reset in places where the virus is out of control, as so many urge? Why are we not doing far, far better on testing, after almost six months of this? If getting kids back to school is our top priority then we should be doing all of this rather than just asking schools to figure it out on their own in an environment where it is impossible for them to truly make headway.

So, excuse me, but Fauci’s remarks on this particular topic seem — to me — to dodge the real challenges and issues. And it frustrates me that he, as one of the few credible voices on this pandemic overall, seems to be offering a facile and incomplete discussion of an issue that is so complex and important.

There is a really good article in the Atlantic that is available on line. “How the Pandemic Defeated America” by Ed Yong. It’s very solid and worth a read.

His premise is that, “despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia, acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer.”

Hard to dispute this.

I also appreciate his description of the virus itself: :SARS‑CoV‑2 is something of an anti-Goldilocks virus: just bad enough in every way. Its symptoms can be severe enough to kill millions but are often mild enough to allow infections to move undetected through a population. It spreads quickly enough to overload hospitals, but slowly enough that statistics don’t spike until too late. These traits made the virus harder to control, but they also softened the pandemic’s punch. SARS‑CoV‑2 is neither as lethal as some other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, nor as contagious as measles.”

But what really captured my attention is his focus on a couple of key issues. One, is the fundamental lack of preparedness. The US health system, which we know is fundamentally flawed, is driven by insurance companies, big pharma and medical professionals who have a far greater stake in a health system that treats people after they fall ill — at what seems to be exorbitant costs compared to so many other nations — rather than acting proactively to prevent them from falling ill in the first place.

We, as a nation, have failed our public health system. It has been underfunded, under-staffed, and under-valued by our leaders. We have not developed the capacity to manage a pandemic like this — or those to come — with education, testing, surveillance, and all the other elements that make public health systems work.

And this unfolds against a backdrop where those on the wrong end of the economic curve — which also often means on the wrong side of the racial divide — are more vulnerable to the ravages of a pandemic. And these are folks whose health insurance, if they have it, is tied to a job, and those jobs have been lost making them even more at risk.

Our failure to take preparedness seriously, our failure to address the health care needs of our population broadly, and our failure to take seriously the costs of years of systemic racism have all compounded the problem. Take a look at Yong’s article and judge for yourself.

Finally, and Yong mentions this too, there is the continued failure of leadership at the national level. I am beyond words. Trump, again yesterday, asserted that we had done an “admirable” job in managing this pandemic. And when reminded that we are now approaching 160,000 dead Americans and are witnessing deaths at a rate far, far higher than so many other nations, Trump dismissed it by saying the death toll “is what it is.”

How’s that for empathy? How’s that for leadership? How’s that for accepting responsibility? And, of course, there was no plan offered. No vision of what comes next. No plan for getting us through this, other than living with more deaths because… it is what it is.

But, there are those who still hang on his words. I heard a guy yesterday from Huachuca, Arizona, who said that he will not allow people wearing masks into his store. They have to remove masks to shop. How insane. Another guy in Huachuca said he didn’t believe the reports of 150,000 dead. It was fake news. Manipulated numbers. The President had said, after all, this was all a hoax (remember that?). Yet another guy said that he dismissed Trump’s call to wear masks as something he “had to say” for political reasons but he would rely on Trump’s far more robust arguments about masks being unnecessary and the fact that Trump didn’t wear them himself.

That’s what we get from Trump. To paraphrase his own words… he is what he is. And what he is does NOT deserve to sit in the same Oval Office that had been occupied by so many who led with honor, with dignity, and courage.


So, I’ll end this long ramble today with words to live by from Pascal, the very laid back, philosophical otter who has become a favorite of mine in Animal Crossing. He says: “Folks are always seein’ in clouds what they wanna see, but someday they’re gonna miss seein’ the storm.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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August 3

“We’ll get rid of it, we’ll beat it, and it will be soon.”

That’s what the President had to say in a weekend Tweet about the coronavirus. It’s hard to believe that even HE believes what he wrote. I don’t know which is scariest though… the possibility that he DOES believe it, or that he unabashedly offers false hope and fairy tale narratives to the millions who follow him. Either scenario is bad news for the struggle against this disease, though.

And, to continue with yesterday’s theme about mixed messages, today Trump turned on Dr. Debbie Birx, the coordinator of his coronavirus task force. He was upset that Birx acknowledged yesterday what we all know to be true… the virus is extraordinarily widespread and having a growing impact in rural areas. She even suggested that those living in multi-generational households might need to wear masks at home if some members are leaving home to work.

Trump did not like any of that. He accused her of taking the “bait” laid by Democrats who have been critical of the rosy picture being touted by the administration. I’d just call her honest.

But honesty isn’t a virtue that Trump values, apparently. Speaking truth to power will not get you far in his world. Blind loyalty and slavish allegiance to the party line as determined by Trump himself. That’s a scenario I’ve seen play out in third world dictatorships where the “great leader” has to rein supreme, where dissent is not tolerated, and where anything that undercuts the image of big man himself cannot be allowed.

This is what we have seen time and again in states suffering under totalitarian rule. It is not the norm in America where fractious debate, honest criticism, and the airing of different viewpoints – even within an administration – has generally been the norm.

But in this administration all the norms are being shattered. Too many of us failed to take it seriously as this reckless rewriting of the standards of governance undercut our intelligence community, our system of justice, our government institutions and even the basic concept of division of powers. And now, this unwillingness to tell the truth or to face it, threatens the lives of our citizens as the pandemic rages on, and Trump has no plan to tackle it.

Birx acknowledged that 300,000 deaths by the end of the year, as predicted by some experts, is a possibility. We are now at over 4.5 million infections, the numbers keep growing steadily, and we have lost any gains we made with the April shutdown. But Trump says we’ll beat it “soon.” Right.

Millions of kids are nowhere close to getting back to school and where schools have started we’re starting to hear reports of kids with the virus, classes being quarantined etc. This is the safe reopening that Trump and his hapless Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss talked about? Meanwhile, the economy saw a 32.9% annualized contraction in the second quarter, and so far all the foolish risks that Trump urged governors and businesses to take to get the economy going, seem to have been counterproductive.
But why not play games with people’s lives in your desperation to have a set of talking points about economic growth as you run for re-election? If it’s all about you, that’s how you behave. And for Trump, it always seems to be all about him.

For half a year now, we’ve been mired in this seemingly endless crisis. And meanwhile, Trump tweets “Make America Great Again” and spends his weekends on the golf course.

And that’s what things look like on yet another Monday morning during the reign of COVID-19.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 2

Years ago I remember there was a novel by Jimmy Breslin — “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” That seems to fit the bunch in Washington at present.

Here we are in the midst of the worst pandemic we have seen in our lifetimes. And what’s happening? Friday, Dr. Fauci testified before Congress. He explained that the European Union’s success in fighting this virus, as opposed to the US, was that their shutdown was far more comprehensive than our own. And what did the President say? “Wrong.” He publicly declared his leading expert on infectious diseases to be wrong on this fundamental issue of how the disease is spread and how we failed in our response.

The President says we should open schools totally now. His CDC Director and the head of the Coronavirus Task Force both say that we have to be selective, and that it depends on the level of community spread and infection rates.

Dr. Birx, head of the Task Force, says that the disease is more widespread than ever and that every community is conceivably at risk. The President says it is under control. Mixed messages much? Conflicting signals that sow confusion and mistrust in any message from government? Yep.

And it’s understandable when some of the things the President offers us are patent falsehoods or just… strange. Yesterday, in disputing Dr. Fauci, Trump again offered his crazy argument that the problem is testing…if we didn’t test so much we wouldn’t have so many cases.

He has said this over and over again, despite all the commentary and push back about it. The idiocy of the statement has been emphasized again and again, but still he says it. After a while you have to conclude that he truly believes that if we tested less we’d actually have fewer cases — that testing is somehow responsible for people becoming infected.

And for those who listen to him… those who follow his example… this becomes part of the gospel according to Trump. Just as when they watched him attend an event in Florida — one of the hottest of hot spots — and once again no mask and no social distancing. If he can do it in one of worst spots in the nation, obviously we shouldn’t be too worried.

That’s the message he sends. And his slavish supporters listen. They forego masks. They congregate in willful defiance of all the dictates of common sense. And they add to the problems and put all at risk.

Every time he offers confused, misleading, or contradictory messages, he sows further doubts and compounds the problem. And each time his example flies in the face of all that the experts are recommending, he undermines all our efforts to make a difference.

So, he wonders why his poll numbers are tanking? This is why. This incredible irresponsibility and this disheartening indifference to the costs we see in terms of the lives or our citizens are shocking to me. This would have been his chance to make a real difference. To earn a place in history. To be a leader. But he has failed. And he continues to fail every day.

The CDC says we’ll likely see 20,000 deaths in the next 21 days. And they are generally conservative in their estimates. But Trump still claims we’re doing a great job.

And he is emulated, then, by foolish leaders like the governor of Arkansas who says he sees no correlation between the lifting of restrictions and the spike in cases.
That’s what willful blindness gets you. It’s either that or abject stupidity. I’ll let others be the judge.

Meanwhile, we will struggle to tackle the problems until we can work in a united way guided by the dictates of science and public health practice. That seems unlikely to happen any time soon with this gang that can’t shoot straight.

If this all sounds familiar, it is. But that repetitive narrative is part of the story too. That after five months, we are making the same mistakes and allowing the pandemic to continue to spin out of control. That after five months the narrative is still one of failed leadership and nonsensical political spin. That after five months the president still fails to show the empathy, compassion, concern and courage we need. So yes… it all sounds the same. Because it is.

This was the narrative as winter turned to spring, as spring became summer, and it is still the story line as we enter the dog days of August. And that is about as sad as it gets.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

August 1

Another month begins. What a ride it has been so far in 2020.

We’ve been in “COVID mode” around here for almost five months now. We started to hunker down starting March 6. It seems crazy how our lives have been reshaped and redefined. The hardest thing has been the limits on time spent with the grandkids. We talk though, and we see them some. They can grow a lot in half a year, though, and we’re seeing it every time we do have a chance to visit with them.

The other thing I miss is travel. We gave up trips to Iceland, Nepal, and a lecture trip on a cruise to Burma and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. We also gave up a lecturing gig in North Carolina. And those were just the ones we had booked in on. We also were eyeing up a trip to Italy, Minnesota, and other domestic travel. It’s been hard to miss out.

Meanwhile, in these difficult days, we have had even more time to follow the news — both about the COVID crisis, and also about the broader crisis of leadership and governance we face. My posts have, I know, reflected a clear and sharp political perspective – perhaps because the news is so stark and almost compels us to stake out a position.

And, although my own responses reflect my political views (which I don’t try to hide), I like to think that they are focused more on principles, values, and the importance of leadership, than they are on partisanship. However they may be viewed, though, I think it’s important in these challenging times that we not only know where we stand but that we speak out.

Looking back on the blog posts I’ve shared, I think I’ve done that. And I make no apologies for the views I’ve expressed. If you disagree – fine. If they offend you, don’t read them. That’s OK too. But, after having spent decades as a career diplomat, I value all the more the freedom to speak my mind that came with the end of my full-time service.

Some might read what I write and suggest that I’m actually exercising that freedom to be an old curmudgeon. But I like to think that this is more than being cranky and cantankerous (though there IS much these days to make us feel that way).

But whether these posts are self-indulgent ramblings or relevant contemporary records of the world
in which we live, I hope that there is value in them. If nothing else, I hope that they offer my kids and my grandkids – a chance to know me better. A chance to know what I believe, what I care about, and what I think matters in life.

And so I write. And as I did in March, April, May, June and July, I’ll try during the month of August to make myself sit down and write even when, as is the case this lazy Saturday, I don’t really have much to say.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.