- Light Rain
- Stuck Inside
- Ted Talk
- Sunny's Donuts
- Supe Interview
- Cruise Passengers
- Super Judgy
- Cautiously Optimistic
- Pilot Speaking
- Employee Screening
- Mime Troupe
- Testing Results
- California Numbers
- Ed Notes
- Rubble Removal
- Ukiah Mural
- Nourishing Food
- Guns Essential
- Economic Lesson
- National Health
- Insurance Racket
- Demand Medicare
- Insurance Gaps
- Leaf Litter
- Forced Liquidation
- Amazon Workers
- Milk Truckers
- Lutz Alone
- Pandemic Literature
- China Numbers
- Found Object
PERIODS OF LIGHT PRECIPITATION are expected across the region through early next week. Thereafter, drier weather will become probable by mid week. (NWS)
SUPERVISOR TED WILLIAMS
Our Public Health Officer has been working remote this week. I don't have a problem with it -- I've worked remote since my now adult daughter was an infant. Given the circumstances, physically distancing staff members is of benefit. I anticipate seeing Dr. Doohan in front of the camera with an update before long. She excused herself today, because the allocation of time would have been against the county's best interest. Behind the scenes, preparation is intense and overwhelming for many.
I spoke to several ventilator manufactures today and found a source of 25 units within 3-4 weeks (at a cost of just over one million dollars) and a source of 20 units within 6 weeks. Quotes in hand. The official channels are being utilized, but parallel research can't hurt. Small quantity orders appear more viable than the state's colossal orders.
I've heard an earful about civil liberties in relation to trail and beach access. The order is not perfect. There are parts I believe go against the core objective. Effectively limiting beaches and the like was deemed a method of reducing risk. Within the powers of the county, we don't have a means to keep out visitors. Shutting down the highway isn't within our powers. By State law, the order is not at the discretion of the Board of Supervisors. The concern is heard and appreciated. My aim is to keep my eyes on the overarching goal of preserving life.
Flatting the curve seems like a prudent idea. Slow the rate of spread so that need matches treatment capacity and we shouldn't suffer the losses seen elsewhere. In order to pull it off, restrictions cannot be light. I've heard suggestions about restricting only those 65 and up. We don't have examples of where this has worked and models predict it would not. One of my unanswered questions relates to the elongated curve. If we stretch the anticipated 1800 critical patients over a duration long enough to treat at 10-21 days on existing ventilators, we're talking a very long time. Do the math, it's daunting. If we successfully keep COVID-19 out of our county and then drop restrictions, it'll likely find a way in and we'll be back in lock down. We must do our best to scale up equipment and personnel, but we won't scale enough to treat 1800 patients in a short time. The vaccine is the solution, but it's probably 12-18 months out.
Then what is the plan for our economy? I will continue to push the county to be transparent through setting expectations. Today, we simply don't know. The timeline depends on how the virus unfolds. Perhaps we will be the success story and I'll be ridiculed for unnecessary preparation, but the possibly of later determining our restrictions were insufficient is also quite real. As someone not an expert in public health, I expect to be in the midst of this viral-economic shutdown in June. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. If your business or personal finances will benefit from decision making based on a realistic target, please don't assume we'll be back to normal in a few weeks. County government understands the impact on the local economy.
The surge is expected to hit the SF Bay Area and Sonoma County first. Just as our patients are often transported south to hospitals, I anticipate the possibility of overflow from the bay area utilizing our beds. The gravity of the situation demands we make decisions and continue moving forward. Not every decision will be the best, but time is of the essence.
Please keep the discussion flowing. The best ideas come from the people. You've influenced my thinking and your representation. Private messages are in the hundreds per day. I try to respond to all, but at times I'm short, because it's not my only duty. Don't hesitate to reach out another day.
Restrictions on critical access hospitals have been lifted. Huge for the coast. They can use every space possible. No limit on inpatient size.
SUPERVISOR TED WILLIAMS was on KZYX Friday morning with Alicia Bales taking calls. Here are a few notes from that show:
Williams is worried about “core staff” having no real backup. CEO Carmel Angelo is spending about half her job time at home.
Mendo has 30-45 total ventilators (numbers hard to pin down) with maybe 1800 patients possible (worst case). People can be recovering on a ventilator for 10-21 days. If, as expected, Sonoma County gets hit before Mendo, Mendo may have patients from SoCo before Mendo beds are occupied.
Williams (still an active first responder volunteer) recently went on CPR call at restaurant which was open. He asked them why they were even open? Apparently it was a chain restaurant of some kind because Williams said locally owned and operated restaurants were cooperative, but some chain-owned were slow and the Sheriff was involved.
Williams said it is hard to track AirBnB rentals that are supposed to be closed. He has asked AirBnB to “delist” Mendo. But the SF-based AirBnB people are themselves on Shelter in Place and there’s some “confidentiality” issues. Williams said he thought the closure situation on the South Coast had improved in the last few days
Williams said he expects the current Shelter In Place (SIP) Order to be extended indefinitely. “We don’t know when restrictions will be lifted or relaxed,” said Williams. “It would not be surprised me if it extended into June.”
Williams said he is “quite aware” of the financial implications of all of this. “We are losing bed tax and sales tax and property tax,” said Williams, “but the short term health concern is a priority.”
Homeless people, Williams said, are in a high risk category by themselves, with implications for occupying hospital beds and for spread. The Supervisors plan to discuss the homeless/virus issue next Tuesday. Ukiah Valley is working on a plan. “We are trying to not move encampments,” said Williams. “We get it. We are actively working on the plan right now.” Apparently there are ten homeless people in the town of Mendocino currently in a visitor serving facility there. They want to work with local Inns to get more people inside in fewer inns and are looking for inns to come forward. Williams said the County “can provide some limited funds.” Inns can also house “essential service workers.”
Williams noted that the situation is a “moving target,” where orders get stale pretty fast.
Williams conceded that he hopes Mendo doesn’t get like New York or Italy, but still the economic impact is bad and it will be hard to recover from.
A caller noted that PG&E is not cutting anyone off for non-payment, but wanted to know if propane companies are doing the same. Williams said he’d follow-up on that as soon as possible.
ANDERSON VALLEY ARROYO (photo by Larry Wagner)
THURSDAY NIGHT, Mendo’s Assistant Health Officer reported that the two confirmed cases in Mendo were both returnees from the infected Princess Cruise line cruiseship in the Bay Area. They were not “community spread” and there are still no new confirmed cases in Mendocino County. Several dozen tests are pending.
ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON, Dr. Drew Colfax, son of former Supervisor David Colfax of Boonville and an Emergency Room doctor in Ukiah, came on the KZYX air to report that as of Friday they have done 177 tests. 136 were negative, 2 were positive and 39 are pending. Colfax said he was “cautiously optimistic” so far. “It’s better than thought it would be last week. But it feels like we’re on the Titanic and the ship is humming along. But we know how that movie ends.” Colfax noted that there is still no widespread testing and what there is is not totally reliable and it’s slow. There’s not much to do besides the basic distancing and hygiene we’re already doing. But if there’s a surge Mendo won’t be alone.
WE ARE HEARING that some “essential” service offices — private, non-profit, and government — around the County seem to be trying to come up with their own impromptu screening processes for arriving employees with, ahem, mixed results. Temperatures are taken by various catch-as-catch can methods administered haphazardly by untrained people accompanied by quirky attempts to keep track of who’s at work, who’s tested, who’s washed their hands, who hasn’t, who’s home, who’s in charge, etc. Frustration is building. Some workers are saying they’re not going to put up with it for long unless management comes in and puts some standardized, effective procedures in place. But given that this is Mendo, that’s not very likely.
REMINDER: Most of the numbers of “cases” being widely reported, i.e., people confirmed to have the corona virus, are counts of the limited number people who have been tested. So, these numbers that we see regularly, some of which seem low and which at least one AVA contributor seems to think are nearly insignificant as a percentage, are clearly more of a reflection of testing rates than they are of people infected with the virus. And, as we know, the testing itself is unevenly distributed and takes days for results. So there are several layers of lag in the reports of confirmed cases and a corresponding lag in knowing the effectiveness of hygiene and distancing measures. We probably won’t know about the effectiveness of the measures taken to dampen the rate of spread of the disease until the testing more or less catches up with a statistically valid sample size of the population. The measures being taken are certainly helping contain the spread, but health officials probably won’t be considering relaxing any restrictions until the testing data properly reflects the penetration of the virus in any given area as a whole.
CALIFORNIA CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS
Date - Positive Cases / Deaths Jan 26 - 2 / 0 Jan 31 - 3 /0 Feb 2 - 6 / 0 Feb 26 [CDC confirms first possible community transmission case] Feb 28 [testing kits arrive at state public health labs] Mar 4 - 53 / 1 Mar 6 - 69 / 1 Mar 7 - 88 / 1 Mar 8 - 114 / 1 Mar 9 - 133 / 1 Mar 10 - 157 / 2 Mar 11 - 177 / 3 Mar 12 - 198 / 4 Mar 13 - 247 / 5 Mar 14 - 288 / 5 Mar 15 - 392 / 6 Mar 16 - 472 / 11 Mar 17 - 598 / 13 Mar 18 - 675 / 16 Mar 19 - 1,006 / 19 Mar 20 - 1,224 / 23 Mar 21 - 1,468 / 27 Mar 22 - 1,733 / 27 Mar 23 - 2,102 / 40 Mar 24 - 2,535 / 53 Mar 25 - 3,006 / 65 Mar 26 - 3,801 / 78
Source: CA Dept of Public Health - https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OPA/Pages/New-Release-2020.aspx
PLAGUED THOUGHTS. If there are no corona virus cases in Lake County is methamphetamine the possible antidote?
WITH BLOOD BANK donations among the casualties of the plague, I remember trying to sell blood at a commercial operation just for the experience of it, only to be rejected as too old. My fellow donors were a woebegone collection of the alcoholic and the drugged, and I wasn't mollified by the explanation that after a certain age, which I definitely was, the stuff of life isn't as transfusable as it was. But, but, but how about the poisons these people are loaded up on? It's the age of the stuff, the doctor explained, not what you pollute yourself with. Non-commercial blood banks still take the Anderson Blue.
IF THEY MADE rednecks like they used to frost fans would have been thirty-aught-sixed to shards when they first clattered on at 3am a decade ago.
WITH THE BANKS closed Friday, and the Federal Reserve's printing presses running round the clock, and not to be too big a crank about it, but we've been on faith-based money for years now, ever since Nixon took US off the gold standard. It reminds me of the old Soviet joke: You pretend to work, and we'll pretend to pay you.
THE BANKS suddenly closing Friday — at least in Marin — with no prior notice merely adds to the apocalyptic vibe prevalent since that resounding Friday, the 13th of March, 2020, the day everyone seemed aware at once that this corona thing was dead serious. Even the cluster-dependent beach yobbos seemed to have gotten the word that this thing can kill them if they don't isolate their insensate selves.
I WAS HAVING TROUBLE describing the absence of people on the streets when Mike Kalantarian reminded me of the neutron bomb. O yeah, remember when the lunatics were selling it as the perfect weapon because it killed all the people but left property intact? Boonville looks like the day after.
GOTTA LOVE the pure insouciance of the ever-larger homeless camp a little north of the runway at the Ukiah Airport. An American flag went up over the site this week. And wouldn't one suppose that given all the instantly vacant Ukiah motels that the homeless would be ordered into them? I know, I know. Like herding cats, but if the idea is to stop the spread of the virus the most likely spreaders oughtta be spread.
ONE SIGN of the Great Reversion that seems to have kicked off is the many posted photos of coyotes trotting along Frisco's deserted streets. At the top of my aerobic hill in San Anselmo, a wolf-size coyote is a regular sight, undoubtedly fattened on a regular menu of pet cats, whose forlorn owners festoon neighborhood billboards with missing notices, large rewards attached.
BETTER NOT HAPPEN HERE: The 17-year-old LA kid who died when he was turned away from the closest hospital because he didn't have insurance. Given that Ukiah and Willits hospitals are privately owned, for profit businesses, a Supe's declaration that no one gets turned away might be Mendo-necessary. The boy was turned away from an urgent care and died Tuesday after being admitted to a public hospital in the northern LA neighborhood of Lancaster. His positive coronavirus test didn't come back until after his death.
RUBBLE REMOVAL continues at a good pace in downtown Boonville. Much of the shell of the old Pic’N’Pay store is now gone.
LAUREN SINNOTT’S UKIAH MURAL TOUR
Take a video tour of Lauren Sinnott's astounding mural-in-progress. Lauren is giving so much of herself to this project. The mural was originally scheduled to be completed in 2018, yet the painting has taken longer than expected due to the level of detail and the care with which Lauren is telling the story of Ukiah. The mural commission does not cover travel expenses and other costs related to the extra care that Lauren is bringing to this labor of love. Lauren has created an opportunity for community members to continue to show their support for Lauren's work and all of the extra time and attention she is giving to our community. There is a link to the request in the comments.
FROM THE BEWILDERED PIG (NAVARRO):
To say that we live in Bewildering times was an understatement even before last week. But last week proved that things could get much more complicated.
When the news started to travel regarding the virus, I will admit that Daniel and I were a bit skeptical and thought that typical media hype was exaggerating the situation. As we tend to be a bit rebellious by nature (who, us?!?!), we vowed to stay open, no matter what, so that we could continue what had been a great start going into year five.
We came into this year with a deeper commitment to our farmers, foragers, ranchers and fisherwomen. We even went so far as to purchase no more commodity garlic, and began purchasing all of it locally! We introduced a weekly changing pre-fixe menu in order to be able to completely fulfill that commitment, and it had been very well received thus far.
About a week before “this” happened, a dear friend sent us a gift. It was a book called “Nourishing Traditions.” It’s not a new book. It was written about 20 years ago. I had heard of it before, but hadn’t read it. The night I began reading the book found me unable to put it down, and read it until 3:30 in the morning! The information between the pages was truly inspirational, a de ja vu of sort. The benefits of whole, nutritious foods; the benefits of fermented foods and the evil enterprises that are big ag, the food “industry” at large, and big pharma were already present in our food philosophy, as well as the fact that our own greedy, evil government, which is funded by these untrustworthy organizations, stands to benefit from people’s immune systems being compromised from “empty” for-profit only “food.” It inspired us even more to dive deeper into nourishing people…
Like so many others, we were forced to close at the end of last week, wondering how we, and our little band of employees, would survive…
We laid low for a few days in order to try to process this new unfolding “reality,” figure out a “plan,” and assess the unraveling situation. Being in a very rural location and depending a lot on tourism, we aren’t in the most advantageous spot for “takeout,” and our typical food style doesn’t travel well. And, let’s face it: selling takeout in a rural location is not likely to pay the bills.
For those that have dined with us once or many times, you already know we believe that food is medicine. There is a reason for the “Apothecary” sign above the kitchen entrance!
After several days of cooking at home, riding the roller coaster of uncertainty (which is in no way over), we decided that what needed to be done was something that could help people be healthier. One of the amazing things about this county and community is its commitment to being independent. That includes people growing and raising their own food, fermenting and preserving it; making their own herbal remedies, and having respect for the gifts of mother nature. There are very few places in the country where there exists such a concentrated “population” of folks.
Hence, we are planning to offer super nutritious foods: not all complete meals (yes, there will be that as well), but essential building blocks to the makings of a great meal and the raw materials to enrich the body with essential nutrients to enhance the immune system. Of course, “we make no medical claims,” but simply harken back the memories of how generations just before us cooked: grandma’s chicken soup, sauerkraut, and cultured cream. Lots of rich, organic butter…loads of organic fresh fruits and vegetables…meat, close to the bone and raised in pastures….
We will make soups, bone broths, seaweed concoctions, salads, sprouted grain dishes, and we will be offering Mendo Ferments products starting next weekend.
We will have the prices listed, but as we have zero income at this time, we also realize that others will also be very limited on funds. We are hoping that for those who can afford to give more that they will, and for those who can’t afford, we can barter or work something else out. We must all work together at this uncertain time. It is our goal to FEED people, however we must do it. It can’t just be all about revenue. (Never was).
We also are working on a weekly “live” stream of people in our community offering up their own healthy tidbits! Michelle from Mendo Ferments on the basics of lacto fermentation, or Abeja on foraging a nutritious salad from your backyard, to Daniel showing how to make amazing compost…maybe I’ll do a bone broth 101! Got an idea? PM me!
This weekend we will start off slow. We will be offering, in limited quantities and by pre-order:
• New Agrarian Collective butter lettuce salad with a lemon Emerald Earth garlic dressing $16
• Braised Covelo Beef Shanks, Little Organic Farm Potato Puree, Local Greens and Paul’s baby carrots $32
• House Smoked Princess Salmon rillettes with crostini & pickled onions $16
Suggested Price: pp. $58. (if you can pay more to help others, great! If you can't afford it, let's chat.)
Pre-order and pickup only. We have a table set up outside.
Pickup on Friday & Saturday between 4-6.
We will be exploring more pre-order and pre-pay options, but for now you can email me at : Janelle@thebewilderedpig.com, or call the restaurant at 895-2088 (leave a message). Once we get some more systems in place and have an idea of how the community will respond, we will give you the scoop.
Thank you for supporting your local businesses. We now enter a new paradigm…
Wishing you all the best and a healthy future,
Janelle & Daniel and The Bewildered Pig Team
MARCO MCCLEAN CHIMED IN on whether gun stores an essential service:
“Curbside service, then, or through a slot in the back of the truck, and when you handle and carry your guns to get other services and supplies just wear neoprene gloves and a full face mask. Don’t forget to wear the gloves to load guns too. And, mask or not, always observe trigger discipline when you cough into your elbow: finger outside the trigger guard, Cletus. And you too, Wayne and Roy and Sissy-Jo.”
WHAT WE’RE LEARNING in a real hurry is that nobody in this country who actually works for a living is paid a halfway decent wage and this economy was never built to be stable or even remotely humane or fair.
— Jared Yates Sexton
ANDERSON VALLEY FENCE (photo by Larry Wagner)
ABOUT TIME, ISN'T IT?
To the Editor:
You have your own commercial health insurance coverage. You pay your premium, and your deductible, and your co-pay. Your money is used to pay people who tell you what you can’t have. I have a friend who has health insurance, and desperately needs to see a particular cardiologist, but she can’t be seen because they don’t take her insurance. I really need a pneumonia vaccine that my Medi-gap insurance refuses to cover and I can’t afford it, in this lung-affecting pandemic.
If you have insurance through your work, which so many union members are so zealously guarding, what happens if you lose your job? A job is no longer a guaranteed lifetime career. You’re out of luck. And make sure you don’t have any pre-existing conditions!
Now imagine this: you have a dangerous emergency and call 911. The Fire Dept. or the Police Dept. will not respond because you have not paid your premium! What, you expect to have a timely, effective response because you pay taxes? Are you kidding? That’s Socialism! The police, fire dept, FDA, OSHA, public health departments, street cleaning and street lights, traffic signals, all are paid for by your taxes. That’s Socialism! And yet there is such dismay at the thought of what it might cost in taxes to provide comprehensive medical care for all our citizens.
When discussing the probable cost of a national program of health care for all, someone should find out the true total amount of money collected by every company that sells any kind of health insurance, including premiums, deductibles and co-payments. So far, I have never seen or heard any such numbers. What are we really talking about here? Do we even know?
Every other advanced nation in this world except the United States provides good quality health care for all its citizens and everyone else. My daughter lives in Canada and loves their health care. When she was a tourist in Italy and broke her ankle, she received complete high quality care and it didn’t cost her a cent!
In the United States, we pay more for our health care and medications than anywhere else in the world, and have the worst results. Are we willing to commit to the greatest expense for the worst results just to prove our rugged individualism?
Carol K. Gottfried
FROM THE TWITTER ACCOUNT OF WENDELL POTTER, defector from the health insurance industry, a thread (lightly edited):
As a former health insurance exec, I don’t think any story better illustrates my old industry’s racket than the one I’m about to tell you: Right now, as we enter the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes (#COVID19), health insurers are still raking in record profits.
With the COVID19 death & illness count growing each day, you might expect health insurance companies to be one of the industries taking a huge hit right now. After all, they must be reeling from all the medical care Americans now need & all the claims being filed. Right?
Get ready to be outraged. The country’s big for-profit health insurers may actually be one of the huge winners from the pandemic. Among the few corporations to see big jumps in their stock price this week are Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna & Humana (where I used to work).
Investors clearly believe insurers will make a killing, with one Wall Street analyst boosting Cigna to “strong buy.” As medical claims skyrocket how on earth is this possible? A toxic combination of skimping on coverage for COVID19 treatments & raising next year’s premiums.
How do I know this? I used to handle financial information for Cigna & learned that industry CEOs reveal stuff to financial analysts they’d never say to the general public. Few reporters bother to listen in to insurers’ calls with analysts, but one who does is @bobjherman.
@BobJHerman reports that in a recent call with analysts, health insurance CEOs said they don’t expect their profits to fall due to COVID-19. They even expect to meet their most ambitious 2021 earnings goals (and they’ve already been seeing record profits in recent years).
How do health insurers continue to see huge profits during this crisis? “If medical claims start to rise uncontrollably,” @bobjherman reports, “they’ll increase everyone’s premiums next year.” Humana CEO Brian Kane put it more opaquely: “We would price for this for 2021.”
They’re already prepping for big rate increases next year. California officials say they expect insurers to hike premiums up to 40% next year for plans in the state’s Obamacare exchange. Those getting coverage through employers should also brace for big premium hikes.
In addition, Anthem’s CEO said his company expects to realize a “net saving” because hospitals are canceling non-emergency & elective procedures due to COVID-19. And we already know insurers are refusing to waive copays & deductibles for COVID-19 treatments.
This is all music to investors’ ears, who are rushing to buy these stocks. When the market closed today, the Dow was up 2.39%. By comparison:
- Cigna: Up 6.5%.
- UnitedHealthcare: Up 6.67%.
- Anthem: Up 9.93%.
- Humana: Up 14.92%.
It’s high times for the insurance racket.
So, while many suffer serious illness or death — and millions lose jobs & health insurance — the industry that is sitting pretty in the United States right now is the health insurance industry.
That perfectly sums up all you need to know about healthcare in America in 2020.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY:
Imagine being an insurer when a truly earth-shaking disaster hits, and you’re on the hook for all of it. Shouldn’t you be afraid of going out of business from all that liability? Now imagine being an insurer where there is simply no downward pressure on premiums, because people are infinitely motivated to pay through the nose No. Matter. What.
Medical insurance in the USA needs to be abolished. Demand Medicare for All.
WHAT ABOUT THE HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY?
(a brief collection by Mark Scaramella)
The impact of Coronavirus on the health and life insurance industry
“…insurers’ reputations, never overwhelmingly positive among customers, are being battered yet further as businesses and consumers find that many basic policies do not cover the impacts of a global pandemic and publicly express their dismay.”
“Despite a global pandemic being voted the biggest risk to the industry in a poll of insurance executives in 2013, most insurance companies seem to have taken little action in the interim to prepare for it.”
“We could see the collapse of individual life and health insurance companies — ratings agency Fitch has already warned that life insurance companies could be particularly hard hit by the combination of falling stock markets and increasing mortality. Paying out on policies will be a huge hit to insurers, and for reinsurers when added to their other exposure. That could put them in serious jeopardy.”
“To sum up, it is almost certain that we will see insurance businesses fail and quite possibly in significant numbers.”
ON THE OTHER HAND:
(In this on line piece, industry execs (i.e., money guys, not health officials) blithely say 1. Delays in elective surgery will offset some of their losses, and, unbelievably, “We would price for this for 2021 to the extent there's any meaningful impact," Humana CFO Brian Kane said. "I would imagine the industry will as well."
With a little searching you can easily find a crazy quilt (partial) list of many large and medium sized health insurance companies and their ridiculous range of “breaks” they’re giving to their customers now. The list alone is so mind-numbingly long and complicated that anyone (besides mainstream politicians, of course) who thinks this is a reasonable way to handle healthcare deserves whatever “coverage” they may or may not get.
And here’s a bit more (albeit rather tame info) for those interested in this recent q&a with a UC Berkeley Health Policy Professor: news.berkeley.edu/2020/03/10/americas-health-insurance-gaps-could-speed-spread-of-coronavirus/
by James Kunstler
Historians of the future, pan-roasting fresh-caught June bugs over their campfires, may wonder when, exactly, was the moment when the financial world broke with reality. Was it when Nixon slammed the “gold window” shut? When “maestro” Alan Greenspan first bamboozled a Senate finance committee? When Pets.com face-planted 268 days after its IPO? When Ben Bernanke declared the housing bubble “contained”?
If our reality is a world of human activity, then finance is now completely divorced from it for the obvious reason that, for now, there is no human activity. Everyone, except the doctors and nurses, and some government officials, is locked down. So, the only other thing actually still out there spinning its wheels is finance and, to those of us watching from solitary confinement, it is looking more and more like an IMAX-scale hallucination with Dolby sound.
How many mortals can even pretend to understand the transactions now taking place among treasury and banking officials? On their own terms — TALFs, Special Purpose Vehicles, Commercial Paper Funding Facilities, Repo Rescue Operations, “Helicopter Money” — stand as increasingly empty jargon phrases that signify increasingly futile efforts to paper over the essence of the situation: the world is bankrupt. It’s that simple.
The world is locked down and in hock up to its eyeballs. It faces what the bankers euphemistically call, ahem, a “work-out,” which is to say, a restructuring. The folks in charge are resisting that work-out with all their might, because it will change many of the conditions of everyday life (especially theirs), but it is coming anyway. When debt can’t be paid back, money vanishes. Money isn’t capital, but it represents capital when it is functioning. When it isn’t functioning, it stops being money. Now the whole world realizes that the debt can’t be paid back, will never be paid back… and that’s the jig that’s up.
The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is the black hole in the financial universe where money goes to die. Money is rushing in there at a fantastic rate these days, and the Fed is trying to spew out new money at an equal rate to replace it — raising the question: is it even money anymore, or just a figment in the larger hallucination? Kind of seems that way, a little bit. They brought out their biggest money-launching bazookas only a few days ago, and it may only be few days more before that gigantic salvo proves inadequate. What then?
Perhaps the key is how long the ordinary folk agree to their orderly confinement, even in the face of the corona virus. That moment may be a bit further out, with the melodrama mounting especially in New York City right now, numbers of sick people going all hockey-stick, and frightful scenes in the hospitals.
But then, whether it’s a week from now, or Easter Sunday, or sometime after that, what will the ordinary folk do when they decide en masse to de-confine and come roaring out in the streets?
I must imagine that one vignette will feature a mob of inflamed formerly middle-class Long Islanders swarming into the Hamptons with blood in their eyes for the hedge funders cringing in their majestic show-places, who will discover with maximum chagrin that privet hedge is no hedge at all against the wrath of the plebes. There has never been a bigger swindle in history than the aggregate shenanigans on Wall Street lo these years of the new millennium, and we all know it, even if it’s hard to explain just how they did it. The money boyz should be taking a haircut-and-a-half now instead of wailing for bail-outs, but such is the perversity of human greed that they made one last desperate attempt to nail down their fortunes when everybody else was losing…everything.
You understand that banking and finance was headed firmly south long before corona virus stole onto the scene. The tremors started back in September with the Fed jamming untold trillions into the black hole that had opened in overnight lending between banks. That was an infection, too, and boy did it spread — as fast as corona virus! This is indeed a most unfortunate convergence of events, but it should tell you that the banking and finance system, and the global economic arrangements that evolved with it, had already passed their event horizon. History had punched our ticket and was embarking us on a journey whether we were ready or not.
Is it a comfort to know that Joe Biden waits patiently on the sidelines to wave his aviator glasses and make everything normal again? I didn’t think so. Mr. Trump, for all the awe of his office, is not much better positioned to turn about the ship we’re now sailing on. Rough seas ahead, in uncharted waters, as we seek landfall in the next new world.
(Support Kunstler’s writing by visiting his Patreon Page.)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS AND REP. ILHAN OMAR LEAD LETTER CALLING ON AMAZON TO PROTECT WORKERS
WASHINGTON, March 27—Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar today led a bicameral letter to Amazon requesting detailed information into how the company plans to protect their warehouse workers, who remain on the job during this dire public health emergency. This issue has become all the more urgent since workers at 10 Amazon warehouses tested positive for COVID-19 as of this week. Rep. Omar and Sen. Sanders have led similar efforts to hold Amazon accountable for endemic abuses at its warehouses. They were joined Reps. Angie Craig, Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia , Rail M. Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Barbara Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Jan Schakowsky, Mark Takano , Rashida Tlaib, and Nydia M. Velazquez.
“Workers at Amazon warehouses worldwide continue to raise concerns that their employer is not doing enough to protect them from exposure to COVID-19,” the Members wrote. “More than 1,500 of these workers have signed a petition asking Amazon for a more comprehensive response plan, increased protections, hazard pay, and changes to productivity-based performance metrics.”
“Even prior to the dire global health crisis, these facilities have a proven record of high health and safety standard violations, and Amazon has failed to provide any substantive response or solutions to those violations,” they added. “Given that the company has announced plans to hire 100,000 new warehouse workers and institute mandatory overtime, we are growing more concerned that Amazon does not possess an adequate internal pandemic preparedness and response plan. Recent statements made by Amazon do not include sufficient detail, and use vague terms such as ‘often’ and ‘increasing,’ instead of providing specific data.”
Sanders contact: Keane_Bhatt@sanders.senate.gov
Omar contact: Jeremy.Slevin@mail.house.gov
Text of Letter
March 27, 2020
Mr. Jeff Bezos CEO Amazon.com Inc.
410 Terry Ave. North Seattle, WA 98109-5210
Dear Mr. Bezos:
We write to inquire about your company’s efforts to protect its employees who, even during this unprecedented global health crisis, continue to fulfill online orders at Amazon’s more than 100 warehouses across the country.
Reports show that Amazon’s U.S. sales have spiked as many Americans turn to the online retail market for essential products as the federal government continues to encourage residents to stay home in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In fact, Amazon recently notified vendors and third-party sellers that it would temporarily halt warehouse shipments of nonessential goods in order to alleviate the growing strain on its services.
In a recent message to your employees, you recognized the critical work they are doing. You encouraged your employees to take care of themselves, yet you failed to recognize the vital role that Amazon plays in guaranteeing their safety. In fact, workers at Amazon warehouses worldwide continue to raise concerns that their employer is not doing enough to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. More than 1,500 of these workers have signed a petition asking Amazon for a more comprehensive response plan, increased protections, hazard pay, and changes to productivity-based performance metrics.
Even prior to the dire global health crisis, these facilities have a proven record of high health and safety standard violations, and Amazon has failed to provide any substantive response or solutions to those violations. Given that the company has announced plans to hire 100,000 new warehouse workers and institute mandatory overtime, we are growing more concerned that Amazon does not possess an adequate internal pandemic preparedness and response plan. Recent statements made by Amazon do not include sufficient detail, and use vague terms such as “often” and “increasing,” instead of providing specific data. As such, we request the following information regarding the company’s policies and precautions:
In light of the report of the confirmed COVID-19 case in your Queens, New York warehouse, have you developed a detailed response plan if other warehouses report confirmed cases? How do you plan to disseminate timely and accurate information to your workers regarding confirmed cases and its effects on their work schedules, employment status, and the employee benefits to which they are eligible? What kind of financial or educational support have you provided for your workers in Queens amid the temporary warehouse shutdown? How many times per day is Amazon cleaning and disinfecting warehouses, equipment and worker gathering spaces? How are workplaces and supply lines within the warehouses being reconfigured to promote social distancing? Are workers able to consistently keep a six-foot distance between themselves and others? While enforcing strict social distancing rules for workers, what new safety measures are in place to ensure workers do not injure themselves? Have you implemented any of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s suggested Engineering Controls in your warehouse, such as high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates, or negative pressure ventilation? If so, provide a list of the facilities which have been so updated and a list of facilities that have been scheduled for these upgrades along with the dates of expected completion. What resources were used to provide the up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors given to workers? How much additional time are you allowing for scheduled breaks to ensure workers are given adequate opportunity to follow personal hygiene suggestions like handwashing? Do they have time and capacity to leave their station and get to a restroom to wash their hands, or can they face a penalty for doing so? What is the average rate or ratio being used to determine how much hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are made available to workers at each facility? In the absence of face masks, what alternative protective measures are you taking to ensure the safety of your workers? How have you distributed the limited face masks that you have received?
As the world responds to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, Amazon has become a crucial player in the global supply chain; consumers everywhere are relying on your company to deliver the goods they need during this difficult time. But as reliance on your business grows, so do the demands on your employees, as do the risks they face personally. We ask that you intensify your efforts to protect the health and safety of your warehouse workers. No employee, especially those who work for one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, should be forced to work in unsafe conditions.
We look forward to your response.
by David Yearsley
Most musical instruments can be grabbed and taken along in the retreat into self-isolation—from the kazoo in the pocket to the violin slung over the shoulder. Others are more unwieldy. The tuba hardly counts as hand luggage. But none is more unwieldy than the organ.
As no other musician, it is the organist who is dwarfed by his instrument. That is doubtless one reason many are drawn to play it—to have at the tips of the fingers and the soles of the feet control over such sonic potential. The largest pipes of the great instruments of Bach’s day were six times his height. Even mid-sized organs were too much for the player to take in visually from the console. The largest instruments that filled the west end galleries of churches from the 15thcentury on towered over the organist. Often these organs had a division on the gallery rail behind the organist; this “chair” organ is was dubbed in English (Rückpositiv in German—that is, small organ at the organist’s back) was typically designed as a smaller version of the main part of the instrument, and had the effect of enclosing the player so that he could not be seen from down below in the church. Seated at the console, the organist might feel himself protected as in a fortress—the case the battlements, the pipes sonic weapons.
Large organs made it difficult, even impossible, for the player to sense exactly where the boundaries of his instrument lay. What other musical instrument can you not take full measure of as you play it? Almost all of them can be carried, moved, or even destroyed with one decisive blow. Even that ebony battleship that is the modern grand piano can be wheeled across a stage. Not so the King of Instruments. Dismantling it is a job for a small army. The organ is itself a piece of architecture and cannot be carried from the church or concert hall in case of fire. Massive in stature and anchored to their surroundings, too many of the great organs of the European tradition could not be spirited to safety but instead went down in flames when the bombs of World War II fell. In that catastrophe the organ’s size was its greatest enemy.
Putatively invented in the 2nd century BCE in Alexandria by a certain Ctesibius, the organ originally had human dimensions. In surviving images from antiquity the player can peer over his instrument. The Roman mosaics in Zliten, Libya show the organist looking over the pipes and to watch the gladiatorial combat he is not so much accompanying as spurring on. Instruments of similar size continued to be built in the Eastern Roman Empire, and are thought to have been reintroduced into the West in the 8th century when ambassadors from Constantinople presented a transportable organ to the Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short.
By the turn of the first millennium Western Europeans, especially its resourceful monks, had started making ever bigger instruments. The mania for monumentality continued for the next one thousand years, sometimes migrating from the Christian cathedrals to the cathedrals of commerce. One of the world’s biggest organs rambles through the Grand Court atrium at the John Wanamaker store in Philadelphia. Originally boasting 10,000 pipes (as compared to the couple dozen of its Roman ancestors), the Wanamaker instrument was first exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. John Wanamaker bought the instrument in 1909 and it was played publicly in his Philadelphia emporium for first the time in 1911 on the occasion of the coronation of George V. The King of Instruments paid tribute to the King of England. Or was it, at least in Wanamaker’s mind, the other way around? In its current state the organ in Wanamaker Store (now a Macy’s) has nearly 30,000 pipes and six keyboards for the hands, another for the feet.
During the Corona Menace all is still in the Grand Court, the organ silent. Many churches offer Zoom services beamed out into the ether on Sunday morning. But little organ music is being made in the world these days.
Before the advent of electricity one could never play without someone else being present. That someone was the bellows pumper. Nowadays the organist can just flip a switch and make music by herself. In the age of the internet, the organist can be all alone in front of the whole world.
With concert gatherings interdicted across Europe, Rudolf Lutz, musical director of the Bach Foundation based in St. Gallen, Switzerland, is unable to conduct performances of the ensemble he has led through the vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach with such precision and panache for two decades. To bring Bach to the world during the Corona crisis, Lutz has to do it all himself.
For the last five years the Bach Foundation has been streaming and archiving its concerts through its website. These presentations begin with a workshop in which theological reflections by a clergyman alternate with Lutz’s musical explications. Standing at his Roland keyboard, he plays and sings passages from the cantatas, while also making wide-ranging musical citations of folk tunes, pop and jazz. These investigations are not just unfailingly illuminating, but also brilliantly entertaining. Collected by the foundation under the rubric Bachipedia, Lutz’s readings of the cantatas are among the most important and accessible (in every way) contributions to the performance and appreciation of Bach’s music made in our time.
Last Friday, Lutz presented Bach’s early cantata the Actus Tragicus (BWV 106), a work always topical because it confronts death. Live before the entire networked world with an audience of just one person in the church (the foundation’s executive director Xoán Castiñeira, who had introduced the program in three languages), Lutz spoke in flawlessly vibrant English, and opened up new and timely perspectives on this beloved, beautiful work. Expert yet easy-going, Lutz explored emotional and existential elements of the piece, while finding resonances with other works by Bach, all at the tip of his fingers.
He played the instrumental parts at his keyboard and skipped vocally from soprano, to bass, to alto, to tenor). With an engaging combination of ease and earnestness, he painted Bach’s musical picture of life being lived in the cantata’s opening chorus cut short by death’s scythe. The unavoidable truth of mortality is laid out in the cantata’s austere fugue (“It is the ancient law, man you must die”). In illustrating the genius of Bach’s setting of these biblical texts and Lutheran chorales, Lutz skipped from one vocal part to another, also weaving in musical references to Brahms, Louis Armstrong, and African-American Spirituals.
Whether in front of his ensemble or solitary before the world, Lutz’s talent and learning remind me of a contemporary description of multi-tasking Bach leading his own cantatas, “singing with one voice and playing his own part but watching over everything and bringing back to the rhythm and the beat thirty or even forty musicians, the one with a nod, another by tapping with his foot, the third with a warning finger, giving the right note to one from the top of his voice, to another from the bottom, and to a third from the middle of it—all alone.”
After guiding us through Bach’s youthful masterpiece in forty-five minutes, the one-man symphonist Lutz moved from his Roland keyboard to the baroque style organ placed not in a distant choir loft but only a few feet away at altar level in the church in Stein, Switzerland. Lutz then proceeded to improvise a thirty-five minute concert in a variety of Baroque genres and moods using themes from Bach’s Actus Tragicus. His imaginative elaborations were comforting, colorful, learned, vivacious, profound, fun, searching, and uplifting.
Captivated as I was, I couldn’t help but occasionally glance at the global number of views of Lutz’s live musical offering. The tally ended up somewhere around 300. Today, a week later, that figure is still under six digits.
It is astounding to me that Lutz’s profound, generous, healing confrontation with Bach’s music during the Corona pandemic—delivered solo, yet so embracing of others—is not more contagious in the wider world.
(Next week: The Organist at Home (still).)
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
COAST WATER TOWER (photo by Larry Wagner)
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