Category Archives: Economics

ICYMI – Part 3

Such a cornucopia of Trumpian gems, it’s hard to choose.

Ignoring the ongoing slaughter of Americans at the hands of COVID-19, Trump has decided that the path to his re-election requires doubling-down on racially divisive themes of grievance. This will motivate his diminishing political base but seems destined to alienate many former supporters and entire classes of ethnic voting groups. https://wapo.st/3f6LG4f: “Never in our lifetimes has the Independence Day holiday been used for such divisive and personal ends.”

In a stunning move against the environment, the Democrat-led House Armed Services Committee voted to yield 800,000 acres (one-half) of southern Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the Air Force for training activities at the already enormous Nellis Air Force Base (more than 3.2 million acres of land next to the refuge). Less surprisingly, the move was led by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who thinks it a good idea to convert public lands to private use. https://bit.ly/2VUE1yp The move is consistent with the Trump administration policy of repurposing national parkland and other natural treasures for commercial exploitation. Until, to repurpose the great line from Kismet, “no one but me is left.”

Coronavirus infections set a new record on Independence Day, with the 7-day rolling average at a new high for the 27th day in a row, testimony to the gross mismanagement of the crisis by the Trump administration. https://wapo.st/2O6OBhb Indeed, Trump seems to have thrown in the towel to the virus and moved on to other issues, mainly centered on retaining racially motivated monuments. Republican-led states whose governors accepted/adopted Trump’s phantasmagorical thinking about the imminent disappearance of the virus are now backtracking on premature re-openings and “do your own thing” policies on masking and social distancing.

Trump is holding up funding for the military (that he claims to love) – a  $740 billion defense authorization bill — to stop the renaming of Army bases named after Confederate generals. https://wapo.st/2ZJLSQd The president has now firmly and openly aligned himself and the Republican Party with the white supremacy element of American society.

In perhaps the most ludicrous act of his bizarre presidency thus far, Trump signed an executive order calling for creation of a national monument park to contain new statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live.” If the list didn’t reflect the insane thinking of the Trump administration, it would make a great comedy skit. Defending against what he called an “assault on our collective national memory,” Trump named Billy Graham, Davey Crockett, Antonin Scalia, Daniel Boone and, wait for it, Audie Murphy. Excluded were Democratic presidents – so no Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson – Native Americans (no “heroes” there – we killed them all; Trump doesn’t like dead people, even though he’s responsible for killing some 130,000 so far). General George Patton was ‘in’ but Dwight Eisenhower was not. You can see the full list here: https://wapo.st/38Cnh43

After much struggle, the Trump Administration finally gave the SBA permission to disclose the recipients of at least the largest loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. https://wapo.st/2ZJqLO4 Not surprisingly, ethical considerations appear to have had no role in the decision-making. Thus, significant loan money was given to businesses owned by or closely connected with members of Congress, Trump’s personal lawyers, tenants of Trump’s real estate company, as well as,

private schools catering to elite clientele, firms owned by foreign companies and large chains backed by well-heeled Wall Street firms. Nearly 90,000 companies in the program took the aid without promising on their applications they would rehire workers or create jobs.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s (wife of #MoscowMitch, Republican Senate Majority Leader) family’s shipping business was a beneficiary. And many others too numerous to mention separately. One must wonder, of course, how much of the Trump tenants’ relief money will end up in Trump’s pocket as rent. Grifting by Trump and his Republican enablers is nothing new, certainly. In keeping with established practice,  Yeezy, owned by Trump sycophant and supremely wealthy alleged musician Kanye West, was awarded between $2 million and $5 million. https://bit.ly/300UMcz

Of course, the program was intended to help workers stay off unemployment, but there are some real curiosities in that regard. Among recipients, for example,

48,922 reported zero as the number of jobs they would retain with the money, and 40,506 applicants appeared to leave that section blank. It appeared that 10 other companies received between $5 million and $10 million but reported retaining only one job with the money they received.

Also curiously, the SBA ordered affiliates of Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of Trumppublican “pro-lifers,” to return their loans.

And so it goes. More gems soon.

ICYMI-Part 1

You are likely familiar with the abbreviation in the title of this post. My own good intentions of keeping up with, and writing cogent interesting posts about, the major news stories of the day have come to naught. The insanity is coming so fast and furious that I can’t keep up. I start dozens of posts that never get finished because a flood of new material arrives almost continuously. I spend obscene amounts of time reading the news from multiple sources, most of which is unpleasant or worse.

I have therefore decided to start “ICYMI,” which will contain abbreviated commentaries on some of the news that catches my attention. The posts won’t be in any particular order, but roughly will appear in reverse chronology, starting with the most recent and working backwards in time as best I can manage. The reason for this is that November is coming and as we move further away from, say, March, we simply lose memory of many of the insane things that, for example, Donald Trump has said or done. Since his corrupt and incompetent administration of the nation’s affairs dominates most news cycles, it will dominate ICYMI as well. But, first, a few preliminary thoughts:

November presents the last chance to save the United States and our quasi-democracy from final political, cultural and social destruction by Trump and his Republican enablers. Therefore, as we get closer to the election, I will be reminding everyone of events they have likely forgotten. It is also true, of course, that the onslaught of insane news will continue and perhaps worsen, so most posts in this series will include both contemporary and gems-from-the-past. I will continue to write longer “single topic” posts as time permits.

It is vital that we never forget who Donald Trump really is. He started with a large financial gift and made money in real estate. Not too difficult and certainly no innovation (a la, Steve Jobs). The evidence over the years is that he hung with people like Jeffrey Epstein, cheated vendors to enhance corruptly his own wealth and managed to bankrupt a range of businesses. That did not stop Trump from having his own TV show on which his schtick was to fire people. Show ‘em who’s boss. Always.

Factcheck.org reports,

President Donald Trump’s namesake charitable foundation agreed to cease operations in late 2018 as part of an agreement with New York’s attorney general, who alleged that the nonprofit organization was improperly leveraged to further Trump’s business and political interests. A November court order resolved the lawsuit, and Trump ultimately paid a total of $2 million in damages to eight charities, which also received equal portions of the foundation’s remaining $1.8 million.

[https://www.factcheck.org/2019/12/social-posts-distort-facts-on-trump-charities/]

The settlement also required Trump’s children to undergo “training” relating to charitable organizations. Very trustworthy, that bunch.

THAT is who Trump and his family are.

The Blue Wave must be overwhelming on November 3. I see that many polls indicate Biden is leading Trump by substantial margins, but polls are fickle things. Many polls had Hillary Clinton winning handily, and we know how that turned out. All that matters in the end is that every possible Democratic vote is in fact cast – for Biden and for the down-ticket Democrats who can restore a Democratic majority to both Houses of Congress. Only then can the process of healing, reconciliation and progress resume. If we fail at this, Trump will be unconstrained for his final four years. American democracy will then succumb to a stacked Supreme Court, stacked federal judiciary and corrupt Congress that will stop at nothing to establish the Republican Party’s long-sought theocracy/autocracy.

Because of the polls and their Trump-supported and promoted collection of grievances, Trump’s troops (now officially called the Trump Army—think about that) have an increased sense of threat and will almost certainly turn out in huge numbers to try to save him. Little is to be gained by trying to understand why they continue to support him. Theories are plentiful. The only important take-away is that the Democratic vote, possibly assisted by rational Republicans who have finally seen enough of Trump, is maximized. Hopefully, reading ICYMI will stimulate readers to promote, and actively assist, voting among trusted family, friends, colleagues and strangers in November. We’re going to need every one of them.

So, ICYMI ….

Trump uses Twitter to promote racist messages: he retweeted a video of supporters rallying in golf carts in Florida (of course) one of whom yelled “white power.” Trump called his supporters “great people.” https://wapo.st/3dMCfVY Remember the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville: “fine people on both sides.” Sometimes I wonder if Trump has a KuKluxKlan robe in his closet.

Climate change is worsening despite the pandemic’s favorable impact on some pressure points. https://wapo.st/3icwZyh Trump’s presidency has reinforced the decline by “rejecting international pacts, gutting national environmental protections and regulations, and sidelining and censoring its own climate researchers and scientists.” The Republican Party’s nominal “pro life” stance actually just refers to birth; after that, they could care less if you die a horrible death as the planet suffocates.

In a non-shocking revelation, studies show that watching Fox News had a negative effect on viewers’ beliefs about the lethality of COVID-19. https://wapo.st/31toSHK

A Trump campaign spokesman equated protests over the murder of George Floyd and other non-white people by police with attendance at a Trump rally: “We don’t recall the media shaming demonstrators about social distancing — in fact the media were cheering them on.”  https://wapo.st/2VrBgUL Campaign staff removed stickers from seats that were placed by building management to induce social distancing. Trump will stop at nothing to promote himself and his message that COVID-19 is not a serious problem.

States that opened too quickly and, following Trump’s lead, with little regard to the scientific and medical advice of experts are experiencing large increases in COVID cases and in states have been forced to reverse their reopening plans.

In his continuing effort to lower standards of performance in the federal government, Trump signed an executive order directing the government to develop non-degree-based evaluation procedures, citing alleged “credential inflation.” https://bit.ly/3ig7HiQ The new system provides for something called “skills- and competency-based hiring,” though it is characteristically vague on how this will work and how safeguards will prevent gaming such a regime to exclude minority and other workers who may not be “favored” by the regime. The EO effectively equates a college education/master’s degree as just a “piece of paper,” an apparent reflection on the quality of the education received by Trump himself.

An online set of intriguing suggestions for constructive social changes can be seen at https://bit.ly/2BptvrR I cite it not to endorse all those ideas, but to help jump start thinking about these issues. This time around needs to be better, much better, than the last time. Removing Trump in November will not solve the core problems affecting this country. Creative actions are required, and we can learn a lot from the way some other countries approach similar issues. America’s favored moral codes based on right/wrong and guilt/punishment are not the only ways to manage behavior.

From the Covid Act Now Daily Download:

The Houston Chronicle reported that this past weekend Texas Medical Center hospitals stopped updating key metrics, and, when the charts came back online, eight of the 17 original slides had been deleted — including any reference to hospital capacity or projections of future capacity. The institutions — which together constitute the world’s largest medical complex — reported Thursday that their base intensive care capacity had hit 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic and was on pace to exceed an “unsustainable surge capacity” of intensive care beds by July 6

Well done, Texas, well done.

A selection of headlines from yesterday’s Washington Post:

With Trump leading the way, America’s coronavirus failures exposed by record surge in new infections

Texas, Arizona face record coronavirus hospitalizations as U.S. cases near 2.5 million

Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds

###

Who Am I?

The current upheaval over the treatment of Black people in America has stimulated some troubling memories and questions for me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

First, some history. It’s usually good to start at the beginning. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the local “jokes” was that Memphis was actually part of Mississippi. This meant that the “culture” of Memphis, particularly race-related, was more like Mississippi than Tennessee. Tennessee had actually been “two states” during the Civil War, with the eastern part, heavily mountainous and not connected to the cotton-focused agrarian economy of the Deep South, aligned with the “north.”

In Memphis, it was often said that “cotton is king.” Indeed, situated on the mighty Mississippi River, Memphis at that time was a major depot for shipping of cotton delivered mainly from points south. One of the highlights of life in those days was the Cotton Carnival, a huge citywide series of fancy-dress balls, a large parade, selection of a King and Queen and various princesses plus other events celebrating the cotton that sustained the local economy. The reality that the cotton-based economy had developed on the backs of Black slaves was not much mentioned or considered. It simply wasn’t “relevant.”

The history of the Cotton Carnival, started in 1931 and now called Carnival Memphis, can be seen at https://carnivalmemphis.org/carnival-history/ including a brief but revealing video montage of the Cotton Carnival parade and this strange photo:

At the time, I did not know the origin of the “cotton is king” mythology but, come to find out, it originated, not surprisingly, with a South Carolina pro-slavery politician (owned 300), James Henry Hammond, who made a speech in 1858, declaring that,

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. … It constitutes the very mudsill of society …. You dare not make war on cotton — no power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is king.

https://bit.ly/3fKWzbG That, of course, turned out to be quite wrong a few years later. If you choose to read Hammond’s story in Wikipedia, brace yourself as he is reported to have been, among other things, a serial rapist, a fact that did not prevent his being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Most of the young boys I grew up with were overt racists. The n-word was used in normal conversation to refer to all Black people. These boys thought all Black people were ignorant, dirty, untrustworthy and dangerous. I seriously doubt, however, that any of them actually knew any Black people, except possibly in their role as maids or people who performed menial tasks for their parents. For reasons I still cannot explain, I was the odd- man-out in this racially problematic environment. This was partly because I did know two Black people, one a Black man who worked in my father’s carpet business and the other was Beanie, my grandmother’s maid/housekeeper/cook/attendant. Both of these people were naturally kind, among the best people I have ever known.

I am still bothered by an incident involving Beanie. When I returned to Memphis from college at Christmas holiday time my freshman year, it was expected that Beanie would prepare all my favorite foods for a true feast at my grandmother’s place. Beanie was an extraordinary cook. When it was time for Beanie finally to go home, I insisted on driving her. She reluctantly agreed but insisted on sitting in the back seat. When I pressed for an explanation, she said it would be trouble for her if she were seen in her neighborhood driving in the front seat with a white man. Such were the wages of our sins.

The hostility of whites to Black people, and Black people’s apparent acceptance of that reality, made no sense to me. As a non-practicing Jewish person, I was acutely aware of the oft-heard theme in my family and elsewhere that Jews were the subject of class discrimination, placing them below other white people but above Black people in the social/economic hierarchy. That discrimination didn’t make sense either and felt like a constant wounding. I could not understand what these considerations (being Black or Jewish) had to do with anything important, with what kind of person you were.

In any case, I think my personal interactions with Black people from a very early age likely shaped my thinking and left me “out” of the typical racial attitudes held by my friends. Whenever the subject came up, which was rare, and I asked, “why do you hate Negroes,” no one could ever answer coherently. They just did. They thought it was obvious why they should fear and hate them. And it was not a question they thought was important. It was just how things were.

One of the consequences of my upbringing in this environment was that I “identified” as “southern.” Questions of “identity” as such did not come up in those days, of course, but it was clear to me that I was “southern.” When fate delivered me to Yale University in 1960 in New Haven, CT, the “southern” contingent found its members quickly and during early and long nights in Vanderbilt Hall on the Old Campus quadrangle, students would sometimes open their windows to shout. It was common for someone to scream “I am not a number” and slam his window. A contest of sorts emerged and we “southern” boys met the “Yankees” singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic with robust renditions of Dixie.

This exchange wasn’t about race; there were few Black students in that class, and I don’t believe anyone thought of it as a racial thing. It was just “who we were.” We missed home and this was a way, I suspect, of proclaiming that. We didn’t much think about the complex and troubled history of the key words:

I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten,
….
In Dixie Land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin’,
….
Then I wish I was in Dixie, hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie….

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_(song) for more on that. Looking back, however, it is horrifying and shameful that we were so ignorant about this subject. The words of the song are prescient because those who still believe in it are stuck in what they imagine are the “old times” and happily proclaim their willingness to “take my stand to live and die in Dixie.” The question is, stand for what?

Fast forward a full lifetime in which I have been blessed to, among other things, have traveled the world and interacted with people from many cultures, some quite alien to our own. From those experiences I came away with one major impression – ordinary people everywhere want pretty much the same things: an opportunity for personal development and security from want. In short, they desire personal freedom, the chance to grow, to have a family, to get an education. Everywhere I went, it was the same.

Fast forward again. The United States is torn apart by the realization by many, almost certainly the majority, that something is fundamentally wrong with our society. While Donald Trump is not responsible for this condition, he has sponsored, promoted and encouraged division from the very first moment of his presidency. The reality is that he is playing on something that already existed. It took the murder of a Black man by police, one of many such events over many years, to once again shatter the veneer that has enabled American society to overlook this gaping hole in our history and in our national morality.

One of the many consequences is the movement to take down the symbols of our hateful past – the statues, the paintings, the flags and other indications of our troubled history. The central question now, at long last though not for the first time, is “what does it mean to be an American?”

That question is really one of identity. What symbols do you identify with? And why?

While enjoying the light breeze in Central Park Sunday morning, my wife observed that there were many statues in the Park whose provenance she did not know. I thought, that’s pretty normal; many of these things we “see” but do not really think about unless we have a particular reason to observe more closely. These are in a sense failed symbols most of the time. Even tourists often don’t pay attention; these symbols are no different to our conscious minds than the trees and rock formations that cover the Park.

But there are some such symbols that we do notice. In our case a good example was the Confederate soldier statue that, until recently, stood in the middle of the intersection of South Washington Street and Prince Street in Alexandria, VA where we lived for many years.  I suspect that we were conscious of it because of its peculiar location that forced you to veer slightly around it when driving north on Prince. We often wondered aloud why the statue was still there in what had become a politically liberal community.

The many proposals to remove these symbols of the Confederacy have sparked a fierce reaction among many Americans who claim that these monuments are not symbols of racism but are only reflective of their “heritage” and their “history.” These are puzzling claims.

It is 2020. Americans are still arguing that statues of Confederate soldiers who fought against the country in order to preserve the system of slavery – the ownership of one person by another in which the slave was forced to provide free labor to enrich the other – on which the economy of the south had been based are related in some way to their current conception of themselves.

The question that puzzles me about this is: why would anyone in 2020 see his identity as tied to the “heritage” of slavery and treason against the country?  The Confederacy lost the Civil War. Why are so many people attached to the iconography of a defeated political entity? Americans typically do not think of themselves as “losers.” Most astute observers agree that the Vietnam War was lost, but even then, many Americans refused to accept the idea that America “lost” a fight.

Why then do so many Americans reimagine the Civil War as a conflict over “states’ rights” when the main, if not only, “states right” at issue was the power of people to own other people for the purpose of extracting free labor from them? These folks are not going around regularly pondering the complex relationship between the federal and state governments or how that relationship is affected by the structure and language of the Constitution.

There are many options available for building an identity, but these people are passionate, sometimes to the point of violence, that these symbols reflect who they really are.

I strongly suspect that the Confederacy identifiers’ actual knowledge about the conditions that led to the Civil War, and its aftermath is shallow at best and for most it is just a set of simplistic and false ideas about what happened and why. And I am even more convinced that they have blocked out, if they ever knew it, the history of what happened after the war and that continued until at least the mid-1950s, sanctioned by the Supreme Court throughout.

I recall that in my own eighth grade American History class, our teacher informed us that in our reading and discussion of the Civil War there was to be no mention of slavery. That was not, she said, what the war was about and therefore we were to avoid the subject. Instead, we spent our time memorizing the names and dates of major battles.

That was in the 1950’s, of course, more than a half-century ago. While I hope that educators today are more informed than that, the truth is I don’t really know what is taught to children these days. Maybe that is part of the answer to my question.

But I suspect there is something else, something deeper, at work and I think it’s just plain racism. I just saw a video on Twitter of a white woman sitting in the back of a pickup truck covered in Confederate flags. She is holding a large such flag and shouting at someone off-camera: “I will teach my grandkids to hate you all,” as she drapes herself in the flag, raises a fist and says “KKK.”

This is not a unique event. Huge swaths of Americans are in thrall of Donald Trump’s overtly racist policies. Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting Nazi slogans and Trump said there were “fine people [pause] on both sides.” Trump has facilitated the public emergence of an overtly racist class of Americans who are attracted to his idea that America was once “great” and that he will make it “great again.” It is these same people who identify with the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians who tried to destroy the country and waged war that killed 750,000 men in arms and an untold number of “civilians.”

Racism seems to be the only unifying principle behind all this. The virulent response to the removal of statuary that, bizarrely, sits in, among other places, the hallowed halls of Congress cannot be explained by anything else. The “history” and “heritage” represented by the Confederate flag and monuments of traitors who fought against the country so they could retain the slavery system is the concept at the heart of racism historically: that Black people are a subordinate and inferior people whose biological destiny is to be under the heel of the superior white race. There is much scholarship on this history, including recently Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the documented revelations in which will stun you.

If it’s not racism, what could it be? Adherence to a mythology that conflicts with the very “idea of America,” the notion of American “exceptionalism” on which we have for so long rested our moral-superiority hats, must have a powerful source. If you stood up at a meeting and announced only that, “I want to be identified with losers, people who identify with a vile ideology from the distant past,” most people would think you had a screw loose. But if the meeting were in rural West Virginia or South Carolina and you then broke into Dixie, it’s likely most of the people there would immediately understand and rise to join you in the chorus: In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie.

Good old times are not forgotten.

 

A Hero for the Times

People who know me well are aware that I have no heroes. All of them were murdered in the troubled 1960s. Since then, no one person emerged as a true hero, although Barack Obama came close. When he was elected, I fooled myself into believing that America had changed, that the bigotry and willful ignorance I had seen growing up in Memphis had receded and that great times lay ahead. I was wrong. As the Obama presidency proceeded, the Republican Party morphed into essentially what it is today and managed to block many of Obama’s greatest potential achievements.

The final blow to my aspirations for the country came when a relic of our ugly past, the Electoral College, worked to put Donald Trump in the White House. Every day of his administration is a tragic reminder that we could have had an intelligent, articulate, committed woman as president. A lot went wrong, of course, not just the flawed Constitutional structures put in place to placate rural and southern interests and that handed the national leadership to Trump with a minority of votes. It doesn’t much matter now. Trump is president and, as fate can do, his incompetence and corruption have been laid bare for the world to see, a bleeding open sore on what was one of the greatest countries on the planet, flawed but pure of aspiration, in need of much work but full of hope and promise.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe for humanity. It was also an opportunity for the putative “leader of the free world” to show that, for all his obvious flaws, he could rise to the occasion and steer the country through one of its greatest challenges in a century. It was an opportunity to put to rest the oft-stated concern that, faced with a genuine crisis (threat of nuclear attack, for example), Trump’s staggering incompetence would destroy us. COVID-19 is not a nuclear attack but Trump still failed in almost every way imaginable. In the future I will devote much of my time in this blog illustrating those failures in the hope that the people of this country will rise to the occasion as Trump did not and remove him from office once and for all.

Meanwhile, I want to recognize another leader who emerged from the gloom and despair of the pandemic to do what needed to be done, to say what needed to be said, who did the right thing. He was already an experienced leader of government, the political head of the state with the largest Gross Domestic Product per capita, a major driver of the national economy: New York.

New York City, the centerpiece of the state and the gateway to the nation for travelers from around the world, became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. As of today, the World Health Organization reports 8,385,440 total cases and 450,686 deaths worldwide. The United States leads the entire world in both cases and deaths: 118,365 souls lost. New York City, the most densely populated metropolis in the country, quickly developed the most infections and ultimately, so far, more than 17, 546 deaths, as it was flooded by millions of travelers from Europe who brought the virus with them while the federal government hyper-focused on China. In my neighborhood alone, there were 616 cases and 43 deaths. Yesterday, there were fewer deaths than that in the entire city.

Mt. Sinai West Hospital sits immediately adjacent to our apartment building. You can walk to the Emergency Room 50 steps or so down the street. As the city emptied out under the lockdown that started in mid-March, way too late, we were witness to the relentless parade of ambulances bringing critically ill patients to the hospital.

There are two points to be made here. One, the president held a series of daily “press conferences” involving a task force headed by the Vice President and the leading medical authorities at the Center for Disease Control, among others. It quickly became apparent that these events were really for the president to promote himself as the successful defender of the country against the virus, even as the cases and death toll continued to rise. He simply denied any facts that made him look bad. He paraded a random group of corporate leaders in to praise him. He descended into a clown show in which he proposed that the government health authorities investigate injecting bleach into the body or using light of some kind. He promoted the use of drugs for which there was no medical support and which multiple studies indicated could be dangerous to large swaths of the public. He stopped the conferences when his staff finally convinced him that they were counterproductive to his goal of self-promotion and re-election.

Second point: in New York, people who were paying attention saw a completely different approach, one based on scientific facts and evidence. These were the daily briefings by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the last of these briefings, the Governor reported that a total of 59 million viewers had watched these presentations, each of which involved an opening statement and questions from reporters. The Governor always had staff and sometimes important guests, with him to help address questions, most notably Melissa DeRosa (Secretary to the Governor). In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Cuomo devoted substantial parts of each briefing to addressing the issues around policing practices. He proposed specific legislation that was passed immediately and signed at one of the briefings.

Cuomo proved to be a lifeline for many of us who were quarantined in our apartments.
My wife and I found great comfort in his rational, fact-based approach, his appeal to the better selves of New Yorkers and his repeated admissions that this was personal for him, too. In March he proposed Matilda’s Law, an executive order with the force of law, named for his elderly mother and aimed at protecting the elderly and the vulnerable by putting New York “on pause” with special guidelines for the elderly. We tuned in almost every day, as did millions of people around the world seeking some truth and objectivity in the maelstrom of falsity and self-serving lies from Trump and his enablers.

I won’t go on about this. Cuomo, like all prominent political leaders, has his critics. But whatever mistakes may have been made in his management of the COVID-19 crisis, they appear to be very few and given all the circumstances, understandable and not consequential. I do not believe anyone can legitimately say he did not do his best for the people of New York. The results are clear and undeniable. The cases and deaths attributable to the virus are now the lowest in the country. As the Governor put it, “from the worst to first.”

I urge you to watch this video of Cuomo’s final statement and the video that follows it. It’s less than 13 minutes long. Compare this to Donald Trump’s performance on any issue on any day. This is what actual leadership looks like. What a refreshing experience, even in the midst of the most terrifying situation. Cuomo’s handling of these events will be written about in textbooks and studied in leadership programs for years to come. The 13 minutes you spend watching this will be well spent.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=274891703966298&ref=watch_permalink

Pandemic Influences on Higher Education Choices

My good friend and professional colleague, Kevin Mitchell, founded the Business Travel Coalition (http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/) many years ago and publishes a subscription based daily newsletter of important reporting on the entire travel business. The newsletter, now called tVillage Intelligencer, is seen by thousands around the world.

Kevin is prolific writer and thinker and has published a thoughtful and, as always, well-crafted essay addressing the implications of the pandemic on the decisions being faced by many families and young people whether to go to college or pursue other options. I responded to the piece and, with Kevin’s permission, am republishing the exchange here (without the graphics; his original essay can be seen at  https://publicate.it/p/KqXmdg152169):

A Pandemic Consequence: The Questioning of Higher Education

No idle Memorial Day weekend exercise for some

This weekend as Americans think about and honor the more than one million patriots who gave their precious lives for the promise of America, there is even more on the minds of parents. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 (C19) pandemic is causing parents of children already in college, about to enter college or considering applying to think long and hard if such an expensive commitment is the best and only path for their children.Indeed, there is a counter-push against the American must-go-to-college mantra that is increasing in strength. I believe that like previous pandemics, C19 will accelerate many existing or latent economic and societal trends. The crisis is likely, for example, to push a lot of parents and their children to rethink the cost/benefit of a traditional college education compared with alternative paths.

Sadly, a lot of kids today go to college because all their friends do without considering whether that’s what they really want to do and if it is worth 4 years of their lives and a lot of expense, including lost wages, versus other options. For sure, some have a dream of becoming an architect, physicist, astronaut or the next Olympic track star. However, that’s different in that those young adults have strong personal life-purposes and visions. Still, for others, they want to explore new intellectual, social and cultural experiences that are important and valuable to them to better understand.

Higher education has been justifiably pedestalled as a highly valued tradition in Western and non-Western cultures for its numerous and far reaching societal benefits. My grandmother and grandfather, for example, immigrated from Ireland to America in the early 20th century and originally took jobs in Boston as a maid and policeman respectively. They were determined to put my mother and her sister through college to improve their lives. My mother graduated from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia in 1940 when very few women of her parents’ means were able to attend college. Both went onto long careers in education touching many thousands of lives and living the American Dream. So, I am all-in for this important tradition of higher education and its linkage to upward social mobility.

Today, however, especially against the backdrop of a C19 economic crisis, where close to 40 million Americans have so far lost jobs in a highly unsure future-looking economy, many are beginning to challenge the assumption that college is the only path on which to responsibly put their children to achieve the American Dream and a productive, fulfilling life.

It’s not just the high cost. Also at issue is the perceived uneven quality of the education itself, the totality of today’s campus experience and the enabling public policy. Many point to the financing model of higher education as a root cause of the $1.6 trillion college tuition debt-bubble that is more likely to burst during this C19 economic malaise as parents making loan payments are increasingly under financial duress. And let’s not forget the superrich buying their kids’ entry to prestigious universities; not a good look for American society or higher education! In combination, these developments reinforce some parents’ weariness and instincts that it’s time for a revalidation of assumptions. This should worry U.S. institutions of higher learning that have already seen student enrollments decline every year since 2011.

It’s fair to ask if recent graduates are better prepared to work hard, take risks and achieve success than if they had chosen to take a different path, or waited for a while until they discovered their keen interests or passions to make the best possible decisions for themselves.

Perhaps with some irony, a pandemic is once again poised to insert itself in the trajectory of higher education – which has been forever short on innovation and long on cost increases. University education was democratized for the masses as an eventual consequence of the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century wherein prior to that time those of us with European roots had ancestors some 75% of whom were serfs largely confined to their lords’ fields and heavy-handed restrictions. However, while there is something very important about the pursuit of university study that should be understood, valued and safeguarded, there is reason for healthy skepticism as well.

I graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 1980 with a 4-year tuition debt of a mere $10K, which I easily paid off in 3 years. Was it worth it for me? Yes, because I learned that jobs in a big company without a degree were virtually non-existent. In my case, a bachelor’s degree in international relations apparently provided an employer with an indication of some competence and/or other positive attributes. I was offered a job by CIGNA Corp.

Beyond getting my foot in the door at CIGNA, did I secure new skills and knowledge from investing four years of my life and working full-time, year-round? Yes. Was it an even-trade for the benefit? Leaving aside that it represented the key to the CIGNA door, my answer is a resounding no. Very little of what I learned in class helped me in my career and I did not benefit from the interactions of living on campus with fellow students because I lived at home.

The university model should be fundamentally reformed. However, it should also be cherished and safeguarded while culturally celebrating the upward-mobility successes available to those in America who want to strike out with personal visions and work hard and achieve their goals without four-year college degrees. Options include self-education, job training, trade schools and technical certifications, as an example, for aircraft mechanics.

The classic American expression “self-made man” was coined in 1832 by U.S. Senator Henry Clay to acknowledge the inner promise and strength of individuals who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves. There are enough examples in America to fill a university library.

Born poor in Kentucky, and with a total of one year of school, self-educated Abraham Lincoln led our country through its most profound crisis ever during the American Civil War abolishing slavery and fundamentally modernizing the American economy. Lincoln pursued a path that diverged from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn, Haverford, Fordham and other institutions accepting students at that time.

Lincoln, instead, chose a version of distance-learning enabled by borrowed books to become a self-taught lawyer at age 25, state legislator, Member of Congress and President of the United States. With some irony, in 1862 Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act enabling the creation of soon-to-become prestigious universities such as Cornell, MIT, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Texas A&M, West Virginia and the University of California.

Not such a bad path, role model or agent of change! 

Perhaps it would be counter-intuitive, but fruitful, for colleges and universities to celebrate and embrace alternative paths to four-year degrees and lifelong learning and reinvent themselves by taking a leadership role in a comprehensive national initiative to prepare future generations of Americans to be productive, highly successful citizens. Lincoln, the epitome of the self-made man, was able to appreciate accomplishment without the benefit of a college degree and, at the same time, to champion the strategic importance to our nation of expanding institutions of higher learning.As pandemics are wont to do, I am sure many Americans this Memorial Day weekend are using the reflective time to think over many long-held assumptions about important components of their lives from college, to work-life balances, to placing their parents in nursing homes.

My response:

I read with great interest your essay on the questioning of higher education as a partial result of the economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been mulling this subject for a long time, inspired by some much earlier published pieces in which (1) a successful entrepreneur (one of your “self-made men”) argued that college was useless, that his son would have to make his way as an innovator, just like dad, or fail, without wasting time in college; (2) arguments were presented that the cost-benefit analysis, comparing future earning differentials for college graduates v. non-college people showed conclusively that, as you have suggested, it’s “not worth it.”

Having been blessed with a scholarship-financed liberal arts education at an Ivy League college, also with associated debt to repay, I must dissent.

You are no doubt correct that the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic will force many to rethink their ability to pay for a college education. This is but one of the many tragedies to emerge from the pandemic. But that, I suggest, is a separate issue from whether a college education is so valuable that, if the opportunity exists, it should almost always be chosen. The value is properly determined not simply by traditional “cost benefit” analysis but by a broader range of intangible considerations.

For example, an on-campus college education presents the opportunity for young people to engage with a range of intellectual and other mind-expanding stimuli in an atmosphere that, if properly run, expands understanding of how the world works. It forces students to confront different points of view and to think more deeply about hard questions about which they previously just assumed the answers. They have the opportunity to confront and understand complexity. Ultimately, they learn to think, often about subjects they had no original interest in and would never have been touched by in the absence of the “cloistered” college experience.

Viewed this way, college is not just a trade school, a place where you learn how to do something. It’s a place where you come to understand what you can and should be doing and then you move on to more advanced studies or enter the world and take up the rest through direct experience.

I do not suggest, however, that college is right or necessary for everyone. But it is right for most young people who life paths are still being sorted at the time college is an option .It is not just the ticket to superior employment – it is the essential prerequisite to the fully examined life.

I believe we are seeing now in our society the consequences of having a large population of adults who did not have this experience. The polls refer to them as the “non-college educated white people.” They tend to support Donald Trump, to revere destructive rhetoric, support anti-immigrant and anti-diversity policies, to “hate” the “other,” defined as people not like them. Their thought processes embrace ideas like “fake news” and are unable to distinguish truth from ideology. They don’t think deeply about anything because they’ve never been required to do so. They see themselves as victims and engage in much magical thinking, including attraction to conspiracy theories.

Obviously, not all non-college educated people are like that but I believe the shockingly large segment of the American population that the above does describe is in significant part a function of the lack of higher education and the exposure to “other” ideas and “other” people that such education most often provides.

It would be ideal, of course, if the United States offered both paths, so that those people who only want to learn a trade and pursue the resulting life can do so. In the past the country did have trade schools but the shifting of manufacturing to foreign sources caused job opportunities in many trades to dry up, leading to the closure of many related educational opportunities. The demand now is for computer science and related skills and while there are schools devoted largely to teaching those things, the emerging students will likely lead more rewarding lives, all aspects considered, if they also have some learning experiences in literature, history and the like.

You and I are probably not as far apart as might appear with respect to the above. Where we more seriously diverge, I suspect, is regarding the notion of the “self-made man,” for which you cite Abraham Lincoln as a stellar example of what can happen to individuals with the “inner promise and strength … who work hard and succeed irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.” Lincoln certainly stands out in the pantheon of such people, but I suggest that the chances today of more “Lincolns,” or even more Steve Jobs emerging and doing great works, as opposed to simply making themselves rich with some new technology they imagined, is slimmer than ever.

That is not just a consequence of the greater complexity of today’s knowledge-demands; the system has been rigged to suppress many of the potential innovators. I wrote about this in my blog post entitled, The Larger Meaning of “Hidden Figures” https://bit.ly/2TGx172, the gist of which was expressed thus,

 As bad as slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were for the direct victims, and most of us cannot comprehend how it was to be the constant target of such practices every  day of our lives with no hope of change, the larger lesson from this movie is, I believe, the staggering cost to everyone, in the United States and everywhere, of the lost  contributions and achievements of which these practices deprived us.  And still do.

In the millions of people directly suppressed by these practices, it is a certainty that there were multitudes of people who would, in other circumstances, have become  great scientists, inventors, artists, musicians, athletes, caregivers, writers, teachers and on and on. All of us have lost forever the benefits of the achievements of those  people who never had a chance to develop into their individual potentials as human beings. The frightened people of no vision who perpetuated these practices from    America’s earliest days even to today in some places have deprived the country and the world of an immeasurable gift.

One of the most surprising aspects of that blog post, written in in early 2017, is that visitors to the blog to this day seek it out more than anything else I have written. From where I sit, there may still be some chances for so-called “self-made men” to emerge but the odds are heavily against them. And, I must say, that the term “self-made,” in my opinion, grossly understates the contribution that others made to all such people, including Abraham Lincoln properly understood.

In conclusion, having staked that position, I now declare that I agree strongly with you regarding the need for reform in our education system. Those reforms should certainly include opportunities for future “tradesmen” to learn and proceed with an honorable path through life. They should, I think, also provide for a viable economic path to and through higher education so that everyone who wants to study anything serious should be able to do so without assuming overwhelming debt that take decades to repay and have all manner of deleterious impacts on individuals, families and society at large. I readily confess I don’t know how to get to that idyllic state, but the price we pay as a society of failing at this may well be our undoing, not just as a nation-state but as a civilization.

COVID-19 & New American Mantra: I Only Care About Me

It was Memorial Day. What is that, exactly? It’s a day to remember and honor Americans who died while serving in the U.S. military, especially those who died in combat. Whether or not you approve or disapprove of a particular war, or indeed all wars, it is, in concept and intention, a somber occasion. It’s a time for reflection and showing respect.

The United States has adopted some strange ways of recognizing this occasion, although the phenomenon is not unique to Memorial Day. Most people get the day off from work. Some watch the televised memorials over the weekend; some watch the president and other dignitaries pay their respects officially by, for example, placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

Many others see the day only as a holiday occasion and this year, in particular, there was greater emphasis on the “re-opening” of the country following the various lockdowns driven by the coronavirus epidemic. I have no idea what the ratio was of celebrants to serious observers, but if the scene on Alabama’s beaches is any guide, a very large number of Americans saw this day as simply an excuse to abandon caution and head out for a good time. Multiple videos showed massive crowding at swimming pools in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri and the Ace Speedway in North Carolina, among others. Masks and social distancing were largely absent. St. Louis County officials called the scenes an “international example of bad judgment.” https://wapo.st/3gqBjcD

To be clear, I don’t care much what any individual chooses to do regarding protecting himself or throwing caution to the winds in pursuit of belief that he has a constitutional right to do what he pleases. Freedom, American values and all of that, are what each individual decides they mean for herself.

However, the line is drawn when an individual’s choices infringe on the rights and values of others, including the right to be protected from dangerous behavior. This is why we have speed limits, stop signs, protection of minors from certain types of work and many other restrictions on what we might individually be inclined to do. This is not hard to understand. True, there are violations of the speed limit, seat belt laws and the others every day by someone somewhere, often many someones. According to Rhino Lawyers, on average the police issue 112,000 driving citations a day! https://bit.ly/3gndAKd Some of these are for inadvertent mistakes and many are for deliberate decisions to, for example, disobey speed limits. And, of course, most violators of the rules of the road are not brought to justice. Sometimes, these behaviors lead to tragedies, resulting in deaths, disabilities, lawsuits and so on.

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic with similar deadly consequences, so far, in the United States for 100,000 individuals (exactly 99,498 as I write) and roughly as many families. Globally, the deaths exceed 348,000 out of more than 5.5 million cases. It is highly likely that the reported numbers understate the actual case and death toll. https://bit.ly/2ZL3soy No end is in sight. There is no “remedy” or “cure” that can be administered reliably to the stricken. All ages and demographics are affected, some more than others, but no sector is immune. There is no vaccine and none in the offing any time soon. Many more will fall ill and many more will die before this is “over,” if it ever is. Like the flu, COVID-19 may be with us forever.

Returning then to individual behavior, I repeat that if an individual wants to risk his life on the chance that he won’t be infected, so be it. Do whatever you want with your own life, provided that doing so does not place others involuntarily at risk.

Consider these statements from people interviewed at a packed Alabama beach yesterday, where there was no active enforcement of the policy that groups should consist only of same-family members:

“I’m just here to have fun and meet everybody and be cool, you know.”

Recent college graduate: “I don’t want to die but if [death] is what God has in store for my life, that’s ok.”

“If we get it, we get it…. We’re just going to handle it as a family and just get over it because that’s what a family does.”

“People die from the flu also.”

“I get it, I get it. The survival rate is so high…. we’re all going to get sick from something eventually.”

“If he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not wearing a mask; if he’s not worried, I’m not worried,” young male referencing Donald Trump.

“When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

[https://cnn.it/3d4HG3c]

Such fatalism is fine for individuals who have no contact with other people but most of these people likely have plenty of social contacts. Their “decision” to risk sickness, permanent injury and even death at the hands of the coronavirus thus exposes many others to the same risk whether they want to take it or not.

This is a degree of selfishness, openly and proudly displayed, that should be of profound concern to everyone. These people are living by the “principle” that says, “I only care about me and no one else. My rights and privileges, my freedoms to do whatever I want are more important than the welfare of anyone else that I may come in contact with, including children, elderly people with compromised immune systems or co-morbidities. I am all that matters. Me, Me, Me.”

This comes not just from the very young or the older young restless/reckless who often think they are invulnerable and whose cerebral cortexes, science informs us, are not fully developed and often make bad decisions. People of all ages and with families were interviewed on the Alabama beach. These are our “fellow Americans,” for whose “freedoms,” many men and women gave their lives in foreign wars. I doubt that if we could ask the fallen warriors whether this is what they meant to sacrifice for, most all would say, “no, we did not act selflessly just so others could be so selfish and indifferent to the welfare of others.”

But this is the contemporary reality of life in the United States. It’s not happening in just one place and it’s not just the product of needing to re-open the economy. This is blatant selfish behavior. These people include some of the angry, usually white, people who have carried guns into some state capitols, without being challenged, to demand re-opening. Like the people at the beaches and pools this weekend, they refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing to protect others. While shouting and waving flags and signs about their “rights,” these selfish people make clear that don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. Other people’s rights to be free of disease and to avoid contact with high-risk people and behaviors mean nothing to them.

Having witnessed the ravages of this disease up close and personal, my patience with these people has been consumed. The tank is empty. I am fearful of my reaction if I continue to encounter unmasked people on the streets of New York when we dare to venture out. They were everywhere this Memorial Day weekend when we walked for the first time in two months. The Governor of New York has observed that wearing a mask is simply the “right thing to do.” Still, many are unmoved. They just don’t care.

As tempting as it is to wish they all get infected, that would just expose even more people, including health care workers, to the consequences of their reckless and morally bankrupt insensitivity and that would be wrong. So, I try not to be vengeful. It is hard. This kind of indifference to the fate of other people seems un-American. It seems inhuman. No one can claim valid religious conviction to justify this, though many do so. There is no true religion anywhere that says, “do for yourself and to hell with everyone else.” That, however, is where we are.

 

 

Some Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

In listening to another press briefing by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, I have noticed that he has consistently emphasized that much of what is being experienced, and governments’ responses, has never been faced in modern times. His related point is that if we want to avoid repeating the results of the past few months, we must learn from these experiences and change the way we do things going forward. We should not, he argues, just seek to restore everything from the past but build a new and better future based on the lessons learned during the pandemic. The possibilities are probably limitless but a few of them leap out at me.

Reliance on Foreign Supply

One big one is that as a society, we have come to rely on foreign sources, often but not solely from China, for many critical supplies, including medical supplies that are essential to addressing pandemic-driven illness. Cuomo correctly notes that the United States was ill-prepared to face an emergency of this nature, even though health experts have been predicting for years that a serious pandemic was virtually certain to occur.

How did we come to this situation? At the root of it, I suggest, is the “consumer mentality” of our evolved culture. Recognizing how broadly I am generalizing, it seems true that Americans generally lust for more and more “stuff” and the cheaper the price, the better. To accommodate this demand, our “free market” system of commerce turns to markets where labor and other factors permit the mass production of almost everything we lust for at prices below what they could be produced for domestically, remarkably even after the cost of transportation is accounted for. If you examine the origin labels on most of what you buy, you will see that most of it comes from China, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries in the Far East that are as far from here as you can physically get (except possibly for Australia).

Faced with these challenges from “foreign competition,” many American companies have closed their U.S. facilities and “shipped production overseas.” These decisions are supported, and sometimes even promoted, by the U.S. tax code, with the result that domestic jobs in hundreds of industries have been decimated and entire communities and even whole cities have been laid to waste. Youngstown, Ohio is one I am familiar with but there are many others all over the country.

These outcomes have not changed the demand for ever cheaper goods and have permitted companies like Amazon to dominate the supply chain for an astounding array of goods and services. If we are to believe the “reviews” on Amazon and elsewhere, much of what is produced in China and delivered in the U.S. is of low quality, but it’s “cheap” and it sells. What doesn’t sell is down-streamed through a largely invisible chain of distribution and re-distribution that sees a lot of this “stuff” for sale in so-called “dollar stores” and even second-hand shops.

If the only products we were considering were consumer electronics and such, the American lust for more and cheaper stuff would be somewhat less concerning, unless you ask someone who lives in a community devastated by the “foreign competition” that sucked local jobs dry and left the workers with nothing productive or remunerative to do.

Now comes the pandemic and we discover to our deep sorrow that we don’t have enough medical supplies to provide care of the swelling numbers of patients, many more of whom are going to die without it. Getting more supplies is now a global issue, as competition for scarce supplies erupts among countries and, we now learn, even between the states and our own federal government. The result is higher prices for everyone and still there is often a shortage requiring ordinary citizens to, for example, sew masks to try to protect healthcare workers on the front lines of patient care. If you’ve tried to buy your own masks from a foreign supplier, you may have learned, as I did, that much of the foreign supply is poorly made and often useless. And, of course, mask prices are now through the roof because government health policies are rigorously promoting/requiring mask use.

Another issue is that the federal government has allowed more than 100 coronavirus tests into the marketplace without full review. Many of these tests are sub-standard or worse. https://wapo.st/3c7V4TC

The lesson is clear, although the solutions are complicated and will, as with all major changes, take time. The United States should never again allow itself to be dependent on any foreign country for critical medical supplies. There will, of course, be a price to be paid for achieving this. Some things likely will cost more to produce here than in the “labor mills” of China. Americans will not willingly submit to the mass-production practices, and attendant low wages and poor working conditions, that dominate Chinese and other Far East manufacturing processes. So be it. Related to this is the question of foreign ownership of American companies, a readily available backdoor to foreign control of American business. We have to learn and change or face these problems all over again.

Tying Access to Health Insurance to Employment

Most Americans of working age buy health insurance provided/purchased through their employer. Putting aside ongoing issues of price/quality and coverage of options, not to mention extraordinary complexity of what is and is not covered, the real problem with this system is that when you lose your job, you lose your insurance as well. In normal circumstances, you have the option of paying for interim coverage through the COBRA program but there is no employer contribution, so the premiums are extremely high. There is also a time limit. COBRA can be a life-saver but it is economically challenging to put it mildly and highly disruptive.

The root problem is the connection between employment and insurance. There is no reason I know that this connection is immutable. Other systems exist in developed countries and seem to produce adequate or even superior protection for insureds. I am not an expert in all this, but it seems clear from the public dialogue about this that many people are invested in the current system, including the insurance companies. Many people are also opposed to greater direct government involvement on the grounds that it is “socialism.” The result is that the public discussion has partisan and irrational components that prevent a rational consideration of alternatives.

Of course, there is the issue of Obamacare that was intended to, among other things, give people the option of obtaining healthcare independent of an employer. In the gig economy that’s vital because so many people are independent contractors. When everyone’s health is tied together, as it is in a pandemic, we should be very concerned about people without health insurance and sick leave, but the Trump administration is working very hard to destroy Obamacare without proposing a replacement. Trump has, of course, denied that he is trying to end Obamacare and in particular has denied that he wants to eliminate insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions. Trump is lying about that. The Department of Justice is actively pressing litigation that would do precisely what Trump says he is not trying to do.

It is, however, clear that viable alternatives to the present system, whether it is Obamacare or something else, do exist and should be evaluated in a calmer, more rational way. I don’t know how to get there, but our society as a whole is paying a dear price for its failure to address this issue. The pandemic that has, as of this writing, led to nearly 40 million unemployed persons, has pushed evaluation of this issue to the top of the list of “must do” tasks as the United States tries to figure out what its future will be.