Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reimagine Our Priorities

                                                                                             written 19 April 2020
                                                                                         published 26 April 2020

            Times of crisis stress a culture, and produce shifts in the balance of power within a society.  As the Black Plague burned through Europe in the 1300's, killing many peasants, it created a labor shortage that forcing society to shift from a feudal economy to one based on wages.
            When the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, it adversely affecting the countries they subsidized.  A 2006 documentary, "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil", describes how Cuba dealt with the loss of most of their fossil fuels and agricultural chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides. In addition to transforming their transportation system, the whole country mobilized to shift to 100% organic agriculture, which was accomplished within 6 months.
            Despite being a socialist country, there were distinct class differences within the society, and peasant farmers had been at the low end of the scale.  But during the transformation, called "The Special Period", these farmers skills were recognized as essential to the entire society, and they become national heroes.
            As COVID-19 burns through our society, we are beginning to recognize the value of previously marginalized sectors of our own work force.  Certainly, the doctors and nurses on the front lines in the hospitals are being celebrated, but doctors have always been in the upper tier of the workforce.  However, nurses are as essential to actual health care, and haven't always been as honored or rewarded.  In addition, the rest of the hospital staff, aides, housekeeping, janitors, and food service, are critical as well.  These people are risking their lives every day, to help keep Americans healthy, yet are rarely rewarded appropriately.
            All the employees of the various Emergency Medical Services are putting their lives at risk, and some don't even have health insurance as part of their employment, even though they are essential, skilled workers.  
            Another critical sector in this fight is the staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, both private and public. These establishments house, in close proximity, citizens most at risk to the worst effects of the virus.  The staff is generally low wage, low status, maybe minimally trained, and may not have health insurance, yet they are essential to the health of their residents.
            In the larger economy, we see that grocery store workers are essential to our survival, yet are another group fairly low in the economy, measured by wages and benefits.  Further down the food chain are the factory workers who process the food, and the field workers who grow and harvest food.  Many in this workforce are immigrants, perhaps undocumented and disparaged by "patriots", working for low wages and few benefits.  New clusters of infected people have appeared at meat processing plants in mid-western red states with no shelter in place orders, working in conditions which force very close contact.  Plants are having to close, reducing meat availability.  As the virus spreads into these groups of workers, we are beginning to appreciate that they are also providing essential services.
            The virus has squeezed our economy, highlighting what is really essential and what is not.  People who provide health care and food are essential.  Everyone else is down the list, which is generally the opposite of how our "normal" economic system values work.  If nothing else comes out of this pandemic, I hope that we restructure our economy to reward people who are actually important to survival. At the very least, we see the advantage of everyone having living wages and access to competent health care, not insurance, but the actual care. 
            In the last four weeks, more than 22 million people have filed for unemployment, while the DOW average has grown 30%.  This mismatch between what is considered important in our economy, and the reality of how people live, demonstrates a profound distortion.  For example, we have a national leader who lacks compassion or empathy, focused entirely on reelection and enhancing his brand value, to the point of holding up relief checks to add his name.  Contrast that to an overwhelmed nurse, perhaps wearing home-made protective gear because the richest country in the world still can't get that together, holding the hand of a stranger while they die.  America can do better.  Regime change is a moral imperative.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

We Are Here To Awaken

                                                                                             written 12 April 2020
                                                                                         published 19 April 2020

            Two of my favorite bumper stickers are "We are spiritual beings having a physical experience", and a Thich Nhat Hahn quote, "We are here to awaken from the illusion of separation".  Both point to the non-duality of reality.
            I am writing this Easter weekend, when Christians celebrate the transcendence of spirit over form.  This two-part event, crucifixion of form and resurrection of spirit, is symbolized by the cross and the empty tomb.  Christ taught non-duality.  His core message was "love God" and "love the other as self", the Golden Rule.  For humans caught in duality and the illusion of separation of form, these were instructions toward the experiencing of unity reality.  
            This was radical teaching then, and still is today, because Christ's teaching of non-duality was hijacked when the Roman Empire made Christianity the state religion.  The Bible was edited to support the goals of empire, and the Catholic Church chose the symbol of the cross of crucifixion exclusively, representing the old order of duality, domination, judgment, guilt and punishment.  Under that symbol, empires expanded across the globe, killing millions.  Our culture has also missed the essence of the Easter miracle; the truth of non-duality.
            An example is the recent column in the UDJ, by George Will, spokesman for the status quo of separation.  "...the recurring longing for escape from individualism includes a desire for immersive politics, whereby people infuse their lives with syntheticmeaning by enlisting in mass movements or collective efforts.  A great threat (such as the coronavirus) can infuse excitement into bourgeois dullness and can justify a flight into exciting collective undertakings.  Hence the thrill many people derived from being excoriated by a Swedish teenager for ... Earth's supposedlymortal peril late in the century (which) is still over the horizon (emphasis added)."  In a few short paragraphs, George Will celebrates the illusion of the autonomous individual, dismisses the validity of collective action, and denies science.  
            Contrast this to Bernie Sanders, spokesman for the paradigm of wholeness, in his speech ending his candidacy for president, recognizing the necessity of collective action.  "We now face an unprecedented crisis. Not only are we dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of many thousands of our people, we are also dealing with an economic meltdown that has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs.  Today, families all across the country face financial hardship unimaginable only a few months ago. And because of the unacceptable levels of income and wealth distribution in our economy, many have little or no savings and are desperately trying to pay their rent or their mortgage or even to put food on the table. Congress must address this unprecedented crisis in an unprecedented way that protects the health and economic well-being of the working families of our country, not just powerful special interests." 
            Today there are over 540,000 COVID19 cases in America, the most in the world.  We are only 4% of the world population, yet have 30% of the global cases.  This is the consequence of corrupt and incompetent national leadership, dedicated to exclusive gain during an inclusive peril.
            Trump has yet to mobilize coordinated action at the federal level, and testing is still inadequate, months into the crisis.  He has seized limited critical supplies and used them as party favors to states that genuflect sufficiently, canceled funding to the World Health Organization because they criticized him, and eliminated health care for millions.  Prioritizing the economy over health, Trump is pushing for a quick reopening of the economy despite medical advice to the contrary.
            One lone Republican congressman demanded an in-person House vote on the pandemic economic relief bill, putting all of congress at risk of infection.  Republican judges required Wisconsin to vote in person, risking the health of the entire electorate.  Republican legislatures have overturn shelter in place rules, defying governors and mayors, even as states without these rules are beginning to see cases spike.
            The long-term human addiction to the illusion of separation is coming to an end.  As a species, we face a simple choice; awaken or die.  The coronavirus is a rapid example of several global crises that require a unified, inclusive, global response if we are to enjoy a viable future.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Virus As A Messenger

                                                                                                 written 5 April 2020
                                                                                           published 12 April 2020

            This virus has mutated to infect humans, and everyone is an equal opportunity, without discrimination.  This has stressed our flawed society, highlighting ways we pretend that we are not all equally human, manifesting through politics, religion, and economics.
            President Trump professes that he knows everything better than anyone else, not at all equal to other humans.  As a result, all his policies have been spun from his personal magical thinking.  He views everything from how it affects his fragile ego, and correctly realized that he would have no control over this if it was "real", so he minimized the threat from the beginning.  Unable to hear anything that contradicts his own ideas, he ignores advice from health and science experts.  
            Despite the pandemic being global, the official line is that the virus is an overhyped "hoax", pushed by Trump's enemies to discredit him personally, and is therefore "fake".  This deranged exceptionalism denies the virus will affect us as it affects humans elsewhere.  The Republican party trusts the free market to magically deal with everything, so there is no need for a coordinated Federal response to the virus. 
            Taking their lead from the president, those states with Republican leadership have been reluctant to take the virus seriously either.  Despite conclusive evidence that shelter-in-place slows the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers, avoiding hospital overwhelm, eight Republican controlled states are still holding out.  Those red states that have recently placed such orders allow serious exceptions, reducing the efficiency of the order.  By choosing to believe that the world is lying, rather than heeding the warnings from other humans, they put politics over humanity.  
            These fantasies were able to flourish for weeks as the virus spread first in some blue states.  But every day brought increased caseloads, eventually infecting all 50 states.  Areas that were complacent because they didn't have the spikes seen in New York, began to see a rising tide of infection.  The virus doesn't care about politics, and Republicans are now realizing they are actually human in the face of this pandemic.
            We see the same belief in exceptionalism manifesting in some evangelical churches.  At a time when large gatherings of people can become deadly, a few megachurches are defying orders to social distance.  With Easter coming, this has risen to front page news.  Part of this is the political orientation that religious freedom means no government can "tell me what to do", but there is the subtext that "Jesus will save us from the devil spawn of the virus".  Yet these folks are still human, and the virus doesn't mind what you believe.
            Finally, the virus has illuminated the dark side of our economic system, where people have never been treated equally.  Capitalists are very clear that keeping the economy going is top priority, even if millions die, demonstrating that killing people for profit is an acceptable economic policy.  This is not really news.  To keep the mortgage industry running, we allow 4 million Americans to be homeless. To keep the for-profit health insurance industry robust, we allow 44 million Americans to go without healthcare. 100 million Americans have diabetes and are overweight, but the sugar and agribusinesses are healthy.  A few million dead from the virus is just externalized costs. 
            But with no anti-virus medicine or vaccine, a coordinated nation-wide shelter-in-place order is our only option, and will shorten the pandemic duration.  The alternative is uncontrolled infection and a total collapse of our limited health care system, risking long term economic recession, perhaps even depression.  
            The virus shows us we are all equal and all human. This pandemic is a call to remake our socioeconomic systems to reflect that deeper truth.  The economic disruption of shutdown is huge, with a stock market crash and tens of millions already filing for unemployment.  Like it or not, a healthy society must support everyone, without regard to politics, religion, or economics.  Socialist economic responses, which were considered fringe ideas until recently, are now getting bipartisan consideration. Universal Basic Income and healthcare for all clearly make sense in the face of this pandemic, and will create a more vibrant society in the future.  Reality has a socialist bias, and COVID-19 is a messenger that will not be ignored!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

When Can We Call It Treason?

                                                                                              written 28 March 2020
                                                                                              published 5 April 2020

            Wikipedia defines treason as "intentionally betraying one’s allegiance to the United States by levying war against the government or giving aid or comfort to its enemies."  It has been stated that the coronavirus has invaded us, and we are now at war.  
            21 JAN: First US case of COVID-19 reported. 
            22 JAN:  “We have it totally under control.  It’s one person coming in from China.  We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” (CNBC interview)
            26 FEB:  The first US case of community transmission reported.  “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” (press conference)
            27 FEB:  “It’s going to disappear.  One day, like a miracle, it will disappear.”  (at White House)
            2 MAR: 53 US cases.  "Americans will have access to vaccines, I think, relatively soon, over the next few months”.  (White House meeting)  Dr. Fauci said a vaccine is more likely to be a year or 18 months away.
            4 MAR: 98 US cases.  “If we have thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work, but they get better.”  (Fox news) The CDC urges employers to have workers stay home.
            6 MAR:  240 US cases. Doctors and health officials report shortages of coronavirus test kits, masks, and ventilators.
            7 MAR:  361 US cases.  "Anybody that wants a test can get a test.  That's what the bottom line is.  No, I’m not concerned at all.  No, we’ve done a great job with it.” (press conference)  
            9 MAR: 566 US cases.  “The Fake News media & their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power to inflame the Coronavirus situation.”  (Twitter)
            10 MAR:  729 US cases.  “And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it.  And it will go away.  Just stay calm.  It will go away.”  (meeting with Republican senators)
            11 MAR: 1,016 US cases.  World Health Organization declares a world pandemic. 
            13MAR: 1,832 US cases.  “Yeah, no, I don’t take responsibility at all, because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations, and specifications from a different time.” (press conference) 
            15 MAR: 3,273 US cases.  "This is a very contagious virus.  But it's something that we have tremendous control of."  (press conference)
            17 MAR: 5,261 US cases.  “Federal Government is working very well with the Governors and State officials.  Good things will happen!”
            19 MAR:  10,866 US cases.  "We're not a shipping clerk."  Trump says it's up to mayors and state governors, not the federal government or president, to procure vital equipment for the coronavirus crisis.  (press conference)
            24 MAR: 46,805 US cases.  The president suggested easingsocial isolation protocols and returning to business-as-usual by Easter, contrary to CDC recommendations.  State and local officials have called out Trump for delays in providing them with critical supplies, as hospitals struggle to treat patients with the virus. Trump suggested that the federal government would give aid to governors battling the coronavirus outbreak if they "treat us well."
            27MAR: 97,028 US cases.  Trump sparred with Democratic governors who are asking for aid and medical equipment to help combat their coronavirus outbreaks, including Jay Inslee of Washington and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, whom Trump called "the woman from Michigan" and said "she has no idea what's going on."  Trump demanded that governors show deference to the administration, saying, "I want them to be appreciative" and implied that Vice President Mike Pence shouldn't call them if they did not show the proper appreciation.  "You know what I say?  If they don't treat you right, I don't call." 
            I write this at noon on March 29th, with 132,637 US cases, the most in the world.  At current rates, US cases will be over 500,000 by the time you read this.  There is still a shortage of test kits and supplies.  To protect his fragile ego, Trump has aided the virus by minimizing the danger, and betrayed his allegiance to state governments that are actually dealing with the virus.  At what point do we call this treason?

Sourced from , CNN, The Guardian, and Snopes.

As I post this, US case count is 324,052.  This is significantly less than the 500,000 expected last week.  Assuming this is not just a reporting error, it indicates that the shelter in place orders, now mandated in most of the country, are having an effect in slowing the rate of increase of the virus.