On an Ironic April Fools’ Day

President Donald Trump is no longer downplaying the severity of the coronavirus epidemic, and is now warning that as many as 240,000 Americans might die. As a Facebook friend of ours pointed out, that’s more than the American death toll from World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
The president also now acknowledges that it won’t be over by Easter, that Americans will have to stay at home as much as possible at least through April and perhaps past May, and that the economic consequences will be grim. He also wants you to know that the lack of testing and shortages of essential medical supplies are the fault of President Barack Obama and various nasty Democratic governors and his good friend the Chinese dictator, and the media are only reporting all the horrific news to make him look bad, but at least he’s stopped peddling the pie-in-the-sky optimism which encouraged far too many of his most die-hard fans to go out and potentially expose themselves to the virus.
America has until November to assess the job Trump has done in responding to this crisis, and there’s no telling what things will look by then, but clearly mistakes have already been made. Despite the eight long years we spent criticizing Obama on an almost daily basis we don’t blame him for a disease that came along three years after he left office, we see no reason why any Republican or Democratic governor should have to flatter Trump to get needed federal help for they states, and now that Trump admits that all the “fake news” about a public health emergency wasn’t so fake after all we wish he’d stop castigating reporters for asking questions that he’d rather not have to answer.
Whatever the eventual coronavirus death toll might be, Trump will boast that it would have been far worse if not for the actions he took, and he’ll be right about that. The experts Trump is at long listening to say the death toll would be in the millions if no actions were taken at all, but surely Trump isn’t the only possible president who wouldn’t have simply ignored the problem, so far most of the action has been taking place at the state and county and local levels, and as much as we still despise the damn Democrats we can’t see how any of this mess is their fault.
We’re hoping and praying it all ends as well as possible, even if that redounds to Trump’s political benefit, and we’re doing our part by mostly staying at home and going slightly stir crazy and trying to hold public officials accountable. It’s not so much that we’re so very patriotic and selfless, but that there’s currently nowhere to go, even with gasoline prices at the lowest we’ve seen in many decades.
Stay well, dear readers, no matter what you might decide come next November.

— Bud Norman

Our Depression About Another Great Depression

Our parents were born in Oklahoma during the the “Dust Bowl” days of the Great Depression, and we’ve long been fascinated by that era. While growing up we would constantly pester our parents and grandparents and older aunts and uncles about what it was like, and voraciously read everything we could find about the economic and political and cultural history of the time. Now there’s a good chance well be facing similarly hard times, but we expect it won’t be the same.
Economists at the Federal Reserve are saying that the unemployment rate might hit more than 32 percent because of the coronavirus shutdowns, despite the zero or negative interest rates and trillions of newly-printed money the central bank is now offering, and that the gross domestic product might soon be half of what it was not so long ago. This is even worse than the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate as at worst about one in four. and those who were on the on the job kept at the economy going at slightly more than than half of its former capacity.
As bad as ut was, the Great Depression turned out to be a golden age in American culture. The big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Benny Goodman were swinging, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were making great country music, and the bluesmen were naturally at their best. Hollywood had a splendid decade, and in ’39 it made at least 52 movies you really need to see.
We worry, though, that it won’t work as well this time. These days the big stay-at-home Netflix hit is about the wierd Oklahoma “Lion King,” which we have o admit is uncomfortably mesmerizing. Most of the new music doesn’t seem to help except for the great local music we cant go out and hear, what building continues around here is mostly boring glass-and-steel.We also worry that our generation and the younger folks aren’t so haras our ancestors.

— Bud Norman

A Slow Rush to Judgment

When Rush Limbaugh first took to the national radio airwaves back in the late ’80s we found his shtick somewhat amusing, and during many of the controversies he deliberately provoked over the years we came to his defense. He was espousing what were then mainstream conservative views, which we usually agreed with, and we found it slightly amusing how apoplectic the left would become over it.
Since the nomination and election of President Donald Trump, though, Limbaugh has taken an infuriating turn toward a more newfangled conservatism. Limbaugh was once an outspoken advocate of the North American Free Trade Agreement and free trade in general, he defended President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and Bush’s presidency in general, and railed constantly against the federal government’s mounting debt. Trump called NAFTA the worst deal ever and started protectionist trade wars with just about every country, accused Bush of lying America into the Iraq War and said it was the worst foreign policy decision ever, and is racking up the national debt at an unprecedented pace, but Limbaugh has capitulated to Trump on every issue.
We usually sleep late and don’t drive around with the car radio on these days, so we only occasionally hear Limbaugh’s broadcasts, but when we have we’ve become very disenchanted. The first time was when a video showed a high school girl losing a state track championship by stopping to help a fellow competitor who had stumbled, which went “viral” as an example of sportsmanship, and Limbaugh castigated for her compassion and lack of a win-at-all-costs ruthlessness, which is now inconsistent with the newfangled conservatism, which don’t much like. After that he assured his listeners that whoever was sending pi0e bombs to Democratic politicians and various media would surely turn out to be a lefty trying make Trump look bad, and when the feds arrested a guy whose van was covered in pro-trump decals he embraced his callers’ conspiracy theory that the decals weren’t sufficiently faded so it must have been a “deep state” conspiracy.
One day we happened to be listening Limbaugh asked if any of his listeners had seen and heard the press conference by several women who allege that Trump had sexually assaulted them, and by coincidence we had, so we were interested to hear his account of it. He said that one of the “babes” had complained that Trump asked for her phone, and wondered what’s wrong with a world where a man can’t even ask for a woman’s phone number. He said another was a contestant in of one Trump’s beauty pageants who complained about being ogled, and remarked that the being ogled whole point of beauty pageants. Limbaugh didn’t mention that the first women alleged Trump was grabbing her and kissing her without consent, as Trump bragged about doing on the infamous “Hollywood Access” tape, and thought the request for her phone number added insult to injury. Nor did Limbaugh explain that the beauty pageant contestant said Trump’s ogled her in a state of undress when he invaded her dressing room, as he had bragged about doing on Howard Stern’s pornograahic radio show.
Limbaugh proudly claims to be a fearless truth teller, but on that day he was flat out lying to his 20 million or listeners, and exactly the sort of sexist pig that all of his critics have long alleged.
He later told a caller who was concerned about the growing national debt that it’s no big deal, and that he and other conservatives never really cared about it and only used it as an arguing point with Democrats. That pretty much ended our regard for his commentary, but last week he went on air and said that Trump shouldn’t be heeding the advice of government experts about the coronavirus epidemic, as they’re part of a conspiracy to undermine his presidency, so we’re now done with him entirely.
Limbaugh has bravely announced that he has stage-4 lung cancer, and we’re hoping and praying for his recovery, as we don’t wish that on anyone. Even so, we won’t be listening to his daily diatribes.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day in a Closed Country

Yesterday was supposed to be Opening Day for major league baseball, one of those harbingers of spring we always look forward to, but because of the coronavirus that didn’t happen. Instead of poring over box scores, we were reading some grim statistics.
More than 1,200 Americans are dead, new infections are overwhelming the hospitals in several large cities and doubling every three days, a record-setting 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month, and most of the country seems to be stuck at home with nowhere to go. The stock markets are up on news of a bill to spend $2 trillion of freshly printed cash to prop up the economy, but it looks to be months before people can safely leave the house and start earning and spending money.
We saw another story that the crime rate is down in much beset New York City, but that’s probably because there are fewer people on the streets to mug. There is other good news out there, but for now every silver lining seems to have a cloud.
Somehow it reminds us of that scene in Ken Kesey’s “Once Upon a Cuckoo’s Nest” where mean Nurse Ratched wouldn’t let the patients at her mental hospital watch the World Series, so they sat in front of a blank television and pretended to watch the game and cheer every play they saw in their imaginations. We’re already going a bit stir crazy ourselves, and spent part of our day envisioning how our beloved New York Yankees would have gone 1-and-O to start another championship season, and later tonight we’ll probably continue imagining that scenario to lull us to sleep.
Here’s hoping that sooner or later things will get back to something like normal, and that most of us will be around for it. Until then, we urge everyone to do the right thing and use your imagination.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Good News

The weather was quite nice in Wichita on Wednesday, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s, and on a brief walk around our picturesque Riverside neighborhood we noticed that flowers are blooming and the trees are coming back to life. Somehow the beauty of nature seemed slightly eerie, given that all the news is about nature trying to wipe out humankind, but we found it heartening nonetheless.
We returned home to read that the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion spending bill in response to the economic effects of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which is expected to be quickly passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, and we hope that turns out to be good news. The smart money on Wall Street seems to think so, as all the stock markets went up for a day, but no one expects it will stave off a severe recession and markets will likely go down with the next employment numbers. Despite the hopefully bipartisan agreement the bargaining it took get it seems to have exacerbated the the country’s political polarization, with everyone accusing the other side of exploiting a crisis for ideological reasons, which will make it harder for our democracy to make the hard decisions that are sure to come.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but the news lately has little to offer but gloom and doom. A few days ago 100 Americans died of COVID-19 and now it’s more than 200 a day dying, and although the rate of increase in infections might be slowing — there’s no way of knowing given the limited testing that’s been done — there’s no sign of a decrease. Hospitals in such densely populated cities as New York and San Francisco and New Orleans and Detroit are running out of beds and
essential medical equipment, even the sparsely populated and mostly rural states have lost lives, and no one but Trump seems hopeful that it will take weeks rather than months before things will start getting better.
There’s still good news in the world that’s not in the news, though, and we urge you to look around and find it. The West Douglas Church of Christ is closed for the duration, but one of our fellow congregants called us today to say they’ll have carry-out communion bread and sealed communion cups, and to inquire if we needed anything the church might provide. We were happy to say that we’re getting, and volunteered for any errands that need to be run, and we much appreciated the call.
Some people have been selling stocks on inside information and hoarding toilet paper and otherwise acting with no regard for others, but we happily note that most people are being more considerate. We have to venture out of the house occasionally to obtain necessary supplies, and when we do the people we encounter maintain a polite distance but are friendly. Our Facebook friends keep posting hopeful messages and gallows humor, and people seem to be keeping in touch one way or another.
The flowers and the trees and greening grass and blue skies are good news, too, and if you’ve got that going on in your neighborhood we think it safe to advise you go out for a walk and take a look. We don’t expect to be able to celebrate Easter with our church and family and friends, but even in the spring of a plague year we believe in the miracle of resurrection.

— Bud Norman

The Cold Calculations of Here and Now

No one is more eager than we are for the country to get back to something like normal, as this stay-at-home-with-nowhere-to-go social distancing stuff is already driving us quite stir crazy, but we can’t share President Donald Trump’s optimism that he’ll be able to announce all is well and we can all come out of hiding and get back to business as usual by Easter. Easter is just 19 days off, and current trends suggest that by then the coronavirus will be exponentially more widespread than it is now.
Even so, Trump is ignoring the advice of the government’s most expert epidemiologists and hoping that churches will be packed on Easter and everyone will be back at work the next day. He figures Easter is well past the 15-day period he’s been hoping will suffice since he started taking the coronavirus seriously, and adds that Easter is a very important day to him. Trump is what we weekly worshippers sometimes call a “Chreaster,” meaning the sort of Christian who only attends services at Christmastime and on Easter, so we’ll not question the sincerity of his religiosity.
We do suspect, however, that Trump also has other motivations. Shutting down bars and restaurants and theaters and sports and travel and large gatherings while having everyone stay at home is disastrously bad for business, including Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, as stock market indexes and unemployments claims clearly demonstrate, and Trump had hoped to run for reelection by boasting to the large gatherings at his campaign rallies about the record stock market highs and unemployment lows he had until the coronavirus came along. Continuing the current caution for weeks or even months past Easter might well spare an untold number of deaths, but there might well be severe economic repercussions to prolonging the status quo, and Trump now repeatedly argues that “We cannot let the disease be worse than the cure.”
Trump seems to have learned the phrase from a fellow who appeared on Fox News the night before Trump started using it, and much of the Trump-friendly media are already repeating it to bolster an argument that is coldly calculating yet deserving of careful consideration. An economic cataclysm might very well cause as many deaths and as much human misery as any pandemic, the argument goes, and those costs must be weighed against whatever deaths and misery that might be spared by everyone staying home until the crisis has passed. We weigh the benefits of automobile travel against the bigger-than-coronavirus number of deaths and human misery it causes every year, after all, and as a society have decided in favor of automobile travel, and in times of war and pestilence civilization our society have coldly and calculatingly made all sorts of similarly difficult decisions.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also chairman of Trump’s Texas reelection campaign, says he’d be willing to risk dying of coronavirus if it meant his grandchildren could inherit Trump’s robust economy, and many of Trump’s supporters seem just as committed to the argument. Still, we don’t find it entirely convincing.
The coldly calculating types can go right ahead and accuse us of being too warm-heated and wimpy, but we weigh heavily the lives lost and human misery that might very well occur if the current precautions are prematurely lifted. We can’t deny the economic repercussions of more prolonged precautions, which are already apparent and painful to everyone, but we’re looking beyond the next news cycle and election day and wondering how the economy might fare after a cataclysmic plague. Yesterday the stock markets reacted to the possibility of a big deficit-spending stimulus package getting passed with the biggest day on Wall Street since 1933, and although that was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression it suggests that big government might once again muddle us through death and human misery as we stay at home and watch out for the old folks.
Trump has a different perspective, though, and from his cold and calculating way of looking at things Easter might well be the best time for the miraculous rebirth of the Trump economy. For now most of the mounting deaths of the coronavirus are predictably in populous urban states that Trump wouldn’t have won in any case, so he can blame their Democratic governments for the death toll, and the minority of the national population in the electoral majority of the states he won last time around are staying at home with nowhere to go despite low local infection and mortality rates and becoming quite stir crazy. Depending on the death tolls and economic data between now and November, which are hard to foresee, it might just work.
For now Trump seems to be discounting the advice of America’s most expert epidemiologists, who have clearly annoyed him with their televised differences of opinion, and is trusting the gut instincts he prides himself on, which has resulted in several casino bankruptcies and numerous other failed businesses and marriages, but has always somehow left him coming out ahead. There’s no telling how it works out for America and the rest of the world, or how the sooner-or-later election between the damned Republican and the damned Democratsis resolved, but we’re holding out hope for ourselves and our families and friends and all of you and yours, no matter what side you take.

— Bud Norman

A Pandemic In An Election Year

The coronavirus arrived in the United States during an election year, which is quite inconvenient for American democracy.
Nine states have primary elections scheduled in April, but they’ll likely be postponed indefinitely, and there’s a chance both parties will have to postpone their nominating conventions. We’re hopeful there will be a general election as scheduled, even if it’s by mail or internet or some other sure-to-be-controversial method, but it will be an election like no other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has a clear lead in the Democratic primary race and seems a sure bet to soon clinch the nomination, but last remaining rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t dropped out and nothing’s certain. Neither candidate is currently able to hold rallies or do other traditional campaigning, and both are finding it hard to get any coverage from media that have little time or space for anything other than coronavirus news. Whatever arguments they might make for themselves are largely unheard, and important issues that will likely survive the coronavirus are not being debated.
President Donald Trump has already clinched the Republican nomination, and although he can’t hold the campaign rallies he so dearly loves he has no trouble getting media coverage, but that’s not necessarily to his benefit. Even by November he probably won’t be able to run as planned on boasts about record stock market highs and unemployment lows, there are valid criticisms of his response to the coronavirus crisis, and he’ll find it hard to plausibly pin any of the blame on either Biden or Sanders.
Much depends on how the coronavirus and the economy play out between now and November, which is still far off, but we don’t expect the country will be tired of winning, and that it will be an acrimonious election.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has reduced to us keeping in touch with family and friends as best we can through the modern miracle of Facebook, which is not satisfying but at least better than nothing. Several of our musician friends have been streaming live concerts from their living rooms or basements or the otherwise empty Kirby’s Beer Store, a very fetching woman of our acquaintance has posted videos of herself reading aloud from a favorite novel, other friends are offering to deliver food and toilet paper and other essential items to the porches of those in need, and many more are posting much-appreciated messages of hope and encouragement.
Some of the people we encounter on Facebook are still in denial about the threat, and acrimoniously respond to anyone who dares criticize anything about President Donald Trump’s undeniably slow and inadequate and oftentimes irresponsibly dishonest response. Our guess is that a few of them are among those stripping the local grocery stores’s shelves bare by hoarding more than they’ll need with no regard for the pressing needs of others. Elsewhere in the news, we read of people trying to profit from this catastrophe at the great expense of others.
At the top of this list we’ll point an accusing finger at Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Republican George Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold large amounts of stock markets after getting early intelligence briefings that warned of the dire economic effects of the coronavirus even as they assured their constituents there was nothing to worry about. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe and California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also sold a lot of stock around the same time, but both claim it was done by the people managing their portfolios in a blind trust, both have invited ethics committee investigations to verify that, and neither were peddling happy talk to the public.
Burr was caught on tape telling a gathering of big-bucks donors early on that hard times were coming around again, Loeffler’s financial disclosures reveal that after a big sell-off in soon-to-be-hard-hit industries she put a lot of money in a telecommuting company that’s one of the few likely to benefit from an at-home economy, and even at Fox News some very conservatives voices are calling for both Republicans to resign and faces charges on insider trading.
Partisanship and petty political squabbling has thus far been immune to the coronavirus. When asked about the four accused senators at a daily press briefing where he’s supposed to be reassuring the public about the government’s response, Trump chided the reporter for not mentioning Feinstein, the only Democrat among them, and vouched for the character of all four, but especially the Republicans. Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is a frequent critic and the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s conviction on an impeachment article, and when he was informed by a reporter that Romney was in self-quarantine Trump’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he said “Oh, that’s too bad.” Trump also uses the briefings to disparage the reporters who are providing the public with more accurate information than he presents, which is so often quickly contradicted by the federal government’s best health care experts, but the hard-core fans among our Facebook friends seem to love it.
We have Democratic friends who are as bad, and hope to use the virus to resurrect self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign, and blame everything on the capitalist system that was chugging along well enough until recently, and largely created all the science and commerce and the governmental and social institutions that we still hope will help get us all through this. History will likely record that Trump did some things right and a lot of things wrong during this pandemic, assuming there will be history, and for now we’d prefer that everyone be more objective and civic-minded.
Despite everything all of the federal government is still meeting and telecommuting to come up with some multi-trillion dollar bailout and stimulus deficit-spending bill to slow the economy’s rapid slide into the abyss, and although almost everyone agrees that desperate measures are required there’s the usual partisan disagreement and petty political squabbling about what it should be. The Democrats instinctively want to subsidize the workers, while as is their wont the Republicans want to sustain the businesses that employ those workers, and as usual everyone is looking out for the constituents in their districts and states.
There must be some reasonably sufficient compromise that might do some good, we’d like to think, but it won’t be easy in a time when a pandemic panic has exacerbated all the partisanship and petty political squabbling. Even so, we’re heeding the encouraging messages we find from our friends on Facebook and holding out hope in America and the rest of humanity.
Sooner or later you’ll have to leave the house and drive on inexpensive gasoline to the store for beer and other essential items, where some brave clerk will dare come face-to-face with you to make the sale. If not you might have some brave nurse in a days old face mask provide you care for whatever ails you, or have some other brave soul deliver what’s needed to your door, and in most cases you’ll have no idea if they’re a damned Democrat or a damned Republican, or how they’ll vote in the next election, if that happens.
In any case, we urge you to be kind and grateful and friendly to anyone you encounter in virtual reality or actual reality these dark days, as we’re all going to need one another. At an earlier dark time in our nation’s history a wiser and more eloquent Republican President Abraham Lincoln urged that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

— Bud Norman

Driving the Eerily Empty Streets

Forty million Californians are now under house arrest due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, and millions more Americans across the country are voluntarily staying at home. For now, there’s not much to do even if you dare leave the house.
Being daredevils we ventured out last night to get some drive-through fast food, handed to us by a gloved cashier, and figured that as long as we kept the windows rolled up and the doors locked it would be safe to use some suddenly inexpensive gasoline to drive around town. The Old Town and Delano districts are usually packed with customers for the popular bars and restaurants there, but both were eerily dark and empty. The elaborate neon marquee of the grand old Orpheum Theater where we had hoped to perform in the annual Girdiron Show next month announced that it was indefinitely shut down, and our friends who produce and perform at the nearby Roxy’s Downtown theater are also on hiatus.
Our favorite dive bar is locked up, so is our second favorite dive bar, and although our church is still holding services it has cancelled classes and attendance is down. We can’t visit our parents because their retirement community is locked down and its residents confined to the apartments where the staff delivers meals, and now seems an inopportune time to drop in on our friends.
When the weather warms up again we’ll figure it’s safe to take a long walk through our picturesque neighborhood and its several parks, but the nearby art museum and botanical garden are both closed for the duration, and we’re advised to avoid coming within six feet of another human being.
This might be an overreaction or it might be necessary precautions — as we have no expertise in epidemiology and can’t say –but we do know that it’s not a happy situation. The economic repercussions from everyone staying at home will surely be severe, as so many of our friends are already all too aware, and the psychological effects might be worse. By nature human beings need to interact with family and friends and the interesting people you might encounter in a public place, and the patriotic call for “social distancing” requires real sacrifice.
If you have a job that can be done from home and are happily married with well-behaved children you can home school, it might not seem so bad and could even have its advantages, so count yourself lucky. If your business is shut down and you live alone or, worse yet, with someone abusive, these are hard times.

— Bud Norman

Life in Pandemic Times

Today is the first day of spring, and the local weather forecast here in Wichita is for temperatures in the 70s, and the trees in our picturesque Riverside neighborhood are starting to come alive, which is all good news. The forecasts have the temperatures falling below freezing and nipping all those buds over the weekend, though, and everything else seems to be bad news.
The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting panic have the stock markets and every other measure of the ¬†economy in a free fall, all of the schools in Kansas are closed, and worse yet the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, where we watch “Jeopardy!” and discuss the issues of the day with our friends is now shut down indefinitely. Our beloved Dad, the best man we’ve ever known, is currently in the health care ward of his retirement home due to non-coronavirus reasons and we can’t visit him because of a lockdown, and although we had a face-to-face encounter the other day with our beloved Mom, the best woman we’ve ever known, we had to give her an “elbow bump” rather than a much-needed hug.
Things are bad all over lately, and there’s no telling when it will get better, but we’re hanging on, and holding out hope. We have no expertise in epidemiology or anything like that, but we’re advising the friends we mostly meet on Facebook to be careful but not panic. There’s no holding back spring, even if it brings tornados and no baseball, and sunny summer days are sure to follow. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy it.

— Bud Norman