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Journal of the Plague Year (#3)

Berkeley, CA 4/4 2020 — Headlines:

“Undocumented Farmworkers, Still Deportable, Are Essential”

“Data From Cellphones Shows Staying at Home is a Luxury”

“Outbreak Rages From Nursing Home”

“Business Owners Sue to Reopen, Citing Breach of Constitutional Rights”

“Governors Resisting Pleas to Lock Down Their States” 

“Work Continues on Border Wall Despite Fears Over Spread of Illness”

“'I Am Choosing Not to Do It,' Trump Undercuts CDC Advice on Masks”

“There is No Way Out but Through”

Let’s pause to look at the last one (the others are all from the New York Times, and can be accessed via links).  It’s by Roger Cohen, who has migrated into the Times’ traditional slot as Thinker in Chief  (predecessors include James Reston, Max Frankel, Anthony Lewis, and Adam Clymer).  All are of the White Male persuasion.  Most are Jewish.

As is Cohen, who spends regular time and precious space introducing  and re-introducing us to his supposed anomalies.  Jewish, but only via family heritage, not belief or practice.  English speaking world, but with a whiff of Afrikans.  Liberal, but for gods sake not involved in taking sides on issues like Israel-Palestine.  Anti-exploitation but not for redistribution of wealth.  For fair elections but not for a national, determinative vote rather than the electoral college.  For measures to control global warming, but not those which would mandate environmental measures on corporations or corporate-bought state governments.

So what is he saying to us now?

Here are some profundities.

 “The virus is teaching us something forgotten: what it is like to be swept away by the gale of history.”  Hello!!!.. what about the difference between being taught something and actually learning something?  What does U.S. history teach us (were our educational institutions but set up to teach it, and our students but equipped to learn it?) about the “gales of history?”  About the economic meltdown of the 2008 era?  The 9/11 attacks?  The subsequent invasion and endless military conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan?  The Vietnam and Korean conflicts? The Cold War and McCarthyism?  The Nazis, the Holocaust, and WWII? The Great Depression? WWI?  The Civil War and Reconstruction?  Slavery? Anti-Asian discrimination?  (many more blanks to fill in – go back as far as you wish – take your choice!

More Cohenisms:  “The virus teaches you….you must change your life!”   Note that it doesn’t “teach you” that you must work as hard as you can to change the socio-economic-political system that has limited and diseased your life.  Just you change!

Paper or plastic?

 “The world is leaderless,” concludes Cohen.  Overlooking, among others, Andrew Cuomo, Angela Merkel, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, the Queen of England, Nancy Pelosi, Stacey Abrams.  Perhaps he means the world doesn’t have obvious (in retrospect) leaders like Lincoln, FDR, Churchill, DeGaulle, Mandela, Ghandi.  Each of whom had, of course, flaws.  Big flaws.  But they lived at times when tireless application of their strengths overcame them.

His co-emotionalists on TV cling to their endlessly repeated images and crawling (but usually unanalyzed) “Breaking News” screens.  Decorated with numerical deaths, Cohen falls into the NY syndrome as seen from his luxury high rise apartment.  “The millions suddenly without jobs.  The people dying alone.  Discarded blue and white latex gloves on a street.  Insomnia.  Choppers over the city at night.  The sirens.  People veering away from each other when out…”

How much his fellow New Yorkers, the 99%, would give to have nights in his high-rise!  Privileged, rapid medical intervention!  Groceries on demand, delivered!  Take out meals from fancy kitchens! Private transportation when needed!  But the non-Cohen New Yorkers jam the subway, to get to where they earn as best they can.  They’re notoriously underpaid, especially those without union job.  They’re home health care attendants, janitors and elevator operators, house cleaners, child care workers, cooks, cops, firefighters, EMTs, bus drivers.

One of them is my 65-year old cousin.  As tough a person as exists. I’ve known her since she was born, disabled at birth.  Now confined in a rehab unit in a first-class medical facility.  On a ward isolated from Coronavirus.  We’ve always had a strong bond, ever since I took care of her as an infant and toddler.  She’s had countless surgeries.  Raised two kids, now in their thirties, in a dilapidated 5th-floor walkup.  Husband is an elevator operator, with a strong union whose health plan helps them stay alive, and which has found him some part-time work that he can do at home.  Their son had two jobs, one as an Uber driver, which he quit because of virus transmission probabilities.  Their daughter, ironically now a source of income, from her very difficult but very necessary job counseling via Skype and Zoom disturbed teens quarantined at home via Skype and Zoom. Rent, utilities always due.  Electricity went off the other day, for three days.  Which meant no water, too.  Virus-aware repair people staying away.  One they know finally comes (and wouldn’t accept payment!).

She tells me how kind and attentive her rehab site workers are.  “From all over.”  Some barely able to communicate in English, most with kids in far away neighborhoods or back “home” in another country, living off remittances.  

On my daily, painful walker-assisted rehabilitation outing I run into someone who knows people who work at Kaiser.  He is livid at the Trumpist contention that no one knew, or could have known, something like Coronavirus could happen.  “Everyone knew,” he says.  At Kaiser, for example, the new hospital, planned over ten years ago, was designed with an isolation floor.  They’ve stockpiled and kept ready lots of emergency supplies.  There’s hospital elevator with special entry codes that goes to that isolation floor only.  When you get there you’re in a secure area with PPE material waiting for you.  You strip, disinfect.  Visits to patients are done in isolation too, of course.  Everyone is under ICU type monitoring.

I look in the media and on Kaiser’s web site. There is no mention of this unit. Kaiser, when asked by the East Bay Times, how many cases – and deaths – there have been, doesn’t respond. But my friend tells me it’s around…10!  Four of whom have already been discharged to isolate at home.  Only one of whom is in critical condition.  My experience, with much less life-threatening situations for most (but not all!) of the past couple of years makes my heart sting.  No family or friends can visit that floor and even blow you a kiss through a window, much less talk to you (phones not allowed).  Many deaths around our region, our state, our country, our world take place in such loneliness.  All your props kicked out from under you, when you most need (and deserve!) them.

The bible-brained who infect our culture and our politics are OK with this.  (Add the Torah/Talmud and Koran and you’ve got tens of millions of such folks out there.)  It’s OK because they’ll see everyone who’s gone and passing "in the sweet bye and bye."  

One more headline.

 “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed”

Well worth reading in its entirety (NYT 4/4/2020). Michelle Goldberg profiles Trump’s son-in-law.  “He’s succeeded at three things in his life.  He was born to the right parents, married well, and learned how to influence his father-in-law.  Everything else – his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal – has failed.”

Not since…Rudy Giuliani (unless it’s John Bolton)  has such a dud been pushed to unmerited and dangerous power and influence.  His major task this past week was to “take charge” of supplies needed everywhere.  But he is close to the ever-lurking profiteers who manipulate pieces of multi-million dollar deals for life-saving equipment.  (Ventilators which until recently could have been made and sold for $4,000 or less are now in short supply…at $17,000 each.  Following some Big Deal mergers and buyouts privately and lucratively done.)  On another critical element, The Times reports that Kushner told Trump to announce that good old Google was about to announce a web site that would link anyone to testing.  Turns out it was an idea that a health insurance company co-founded by Kushner’s brother tried to build and quickly abandoned.

Desperate people infected with the virus are now being told there’s “big hope” that an unproven and largely untested anti-malaria product may be riding to the rescue.

Nine states still don’t have shelter in place orders.  One, Tennessee, has a governor who says “protecting individual liberties” is his goal.  So people can do whatever they please in “freedom.”  Including infecting others, and themselves.  And, later, would have the “freedom” to desperately seek treatment and besiege the government they hate for help they can’t do without. 

One Comment

  1. Jonah Raskin April 8, 2020

    Thanks for puncturing Roger Cohen’s balloon. It was much needed.

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