NOTE: The following is a reprint of a "Letter to the Editor" sent to our local newspaper. Some of the content is copied from the February 28 post titled, "CULTure in America." In what can only be called a textbook example of shooting the messenger, News-Leader columnist Howard Pines joined fellow columnist Steve Nicklas in disparaging Dr. Nancy Messonnier, CDC-based director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Dr. Messonnier was removed as CDC’s coronavirus response chief after suggesting at a February 25 White House briefing the disease represented “a severe illness” which had the potential of significantly disrupting Americans’ daily lives. On February 28, Nicklas wrote in the News-Leader: Most health officials will not exaggerate the potential impacts of a malady, but in contrast, Dr. Nancy Messonnier’s performance sounded like an exaggeration on steroids. She is head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases and is FBI agent Rod Rosenstein’s sister. FACTUAL NOTE: Rosenstein was not an FBI agent, but deputy attorney general under Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr. If you are going to peddle conspiracy theories, the least you can do is keep your supposed “deep state” actors straight. In his April 29 column, Pines attacks Messonnier claiming Dr. Messonnier “jumped the gun and issued a blunt warning—without the president’s consent.” Please keep in mind, Dr. Messonnier, by virtue of her position either helped prepare the President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) or, at a minimum, had access to the information contained in them. And as we now know, the PDBs, beginning in January warned Donald Trump the virus would likely spread to the United States and represented a national security threat. Yet, on the day before Dr. Messonnier’s statement, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” Two days later, Trump patted himself on the back, saying, “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty job we’ve done.” So, you have two people with access to the same information. One rightfully warns the public of the potential devastation, recommends preparedness and is taken off the field. The other continued to deny the inevitable, and according to Pines, Trump was so angry Messonnier had... …scared people unnecessarily. He then canceled the meeting (of the coronavirus task force) and replaced it with a news conference where he announced that the White House response would be put under the command of Vice President Mike Pence (instead of HHS Secretary Alex Azar who had also tried to get Trump to focus on the pandemic in early January) and stalled any move to take more assertive action.” It is a good thing Pines and Nicklas were not around in 1776. Pines would have accused Paul Revere of “jumping the gun,” warning Boston residents of the British invasion before receiving permission to do so. And Nicklas might had questioned Revere’s loyalty to the colonies because he once served as an altar boy in the Church of England. And we might be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner.” For what it's worth. Dr. ESP
The 55 years following the end of World War II are often referred to as the era of “American Exceptionalism.” That moniker was based on our military and economic superiority as well as our political stability. Throughout the period there were shifts in partisan control of the presidency and Congress, differences in national priorities and a fairly predictable business cycle with times of boom and bust. Yet, life went on relatively unaffected by internal scandals such as Watergate or external conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. When compared to the chaos in other nations, America, in contrast, was truly exceptional and the world looked to the United States for leadership and as a role model.
However, the reality or just the perception of exceptionalism has its down side. Montgomery Ward thought it was an exceptional retail company. PanAm, an exceptional airlines. American Motors, an exceptional car manufacturer. MCI, an exceptional telephone company. In a guest lecture at Stanford University, Hugh Martin, CEO of Pacific Biosciences, suggested why once dominant companies fall by the wayside. He explained a company with a major share of the market begins to think it is invincible until some young, energetic and innovative upstart comes along. And the more dominant your share the more likely you are to ignore signs your position is threatened.
Which got me to thinking (always dangerous). Is the United States the geopolitical equivalent of a business that once held a near monopoly in the marketplace of nations? And did our “exceptionalism” make us fat, dumb and lazy to the point where our leaders and the general populace thought nothing or no one could push us off that pedestal like a statue of Stalin in Gorky Park. It was then I realized the 21st century became an era of a new kind of American exceptionalism or should I say EXCEPTionalism. Consider the following:
- Before September 11, 2001, other countries were susceptible to attacks from foreign invaders EXCEPT the United States.
- Virtually every nation on earth recognizes the threat posed by climate change and is a signatory to the Paris Climate Accords EXCEPT the United States.
- Every permanent member of the United Nations Security Council remains committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal) EXCEPT the United States.
- Every one of our World War II allies stands behind Article V (an attack against one is an attack against all members) of the North American Treaty Organization defense agreement EXCEPT the United States even though 9/11 is the only instance in which Article V has been invoked.
- Most western nations honored their commitment to take their proportional share of Syrian and Kurdish refugees EXCEPT the United States.
- Every traditional U.S. trading partner signed on to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (successor to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership) EXCEPT the United States.
- And now, of course, the current administration assumed a global pandemic was a threat to every nation EXCEPT the United States.
- And when the World Health Organization offered coronavirus tests worldwide, most nations responded positively to the overture EXCEPT the United States.
What best describes 21st century American exceptionalism? Only four percent of the world’s population resides in the United States. Yet, despite the fact the first case of coronavirus in the United States was reported more than a month after the initial outbreak in China or after the virus had spread through Europe, we now account for more than 25 percent of the reported COVID-19 related deaths. That is truly exceptional. And it did not happen by accident.
For what it’s worth.
If people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things. I don’t know how, but people are very creative.
~Dr. Deborah Birx
The above quote is Dr. Birx’ response to the following question by CBS White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy during Tuesday’s “press beefing”. “How do you safely have hair salons and nail salons and tattoo parlors where people have to be inherently close together?”
For someone who has spent the last 20 years of his life researching and teaching the art and science of creativity, I welcome the challenge. Below are just a few ideas to placate the “Liberate Coronavirus” protesters.
Barbershops with Roomba Shave™
Paintball Nail Salons™
And finally, for Mayor Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas, Masked One-Armed Bandits™
I encourage readers to suggest other innovative ways to re-open the economy. No suggestion is too outrageous as no Trumpster is too gullible. Your time stamped comment on this site can serve as evidence of copyright in case Alex Jones, Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham makes your concept the next hydroxychloroquine.
For what it’s worth. Stay safe.
Those of us with a slightly (or more) warped sense of humor find ourselves conflicted during times of crisis when empathy and compassion are the order of the day. Fortunately or unfortunately, whatever gene takes us to the dark side of humor is unaffected by war, terrorism or now a global pandemic. That became evident yesterday during a phone call with my cousin.
After checking up on each others’ well-being, we began to talk about the impact this pandemic has had on our lives. As is now being documented in the media, we are NOT in this together. Some of us have spacious homes and back yards where we can enjoy many routine comforts or “anti-social distancing” for a few minutes. Some of us do not anxiously await a relief check to pay the rent or buy the next meal. Some of us are not confined to a residential facility where one coronavirus carrier threatens the safety of a hundred others.
Despite that realization, my sick humor gene still kicks in. First, it was the advantage of age. “You know, there IS an up side of being seniors. The trade off of being old is we are more likely to die from the virus, but at least we do not have to put up with our children 24/7.”
The next one-liner focused on the value of the “coronavirus alibi” to avoid things you do not want to do. Last week I had an on-line annual checkup with my family doctor. Having just reached the tender age of 70, he suggested I have a colonoscopy, which fortunately falls into the category of elective procedures. “Forget the debate over the acceptable number of people who have to die to re-open the economy. My concern is how long the shutdown needs to be in force to delay my colonoscopy.” (I cannot wait to see what Larry David comes up with for next season on Curb Your Enthusiasm.)
But as Arlo Guthrie said, “That is not what I came here to talk about.” For me, “too soon” more aptly refers to the time frame in which so many lives have ended over the past two months. Some are obvious.
- EMT Gregory Hodge of the New York Fire Department, age 59, a first responder on 9/11.
- Quen Agbor Ako, 53, worked at a nursing facility in Randallstown, Maryland, leaving behind a husband and four children.
- Cody Lyster, 21, a college student and member of the baseball team at Colorado Mesa University.
However, I find it hard to have any less sympathy for those who led what anyone would surely describe as long and full lives before being prematurely struck down by the virus. Consider the following.
- Patricia Bosworth, actor and biographer, age 86, who appeared in “The Nun’s Story” with Audrey Helpburn and chronicled the careers of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Montgomery Clift.
- Ellis Marsalis, Jr., 85, who inspired and mentored generations of jazz musicians including his own sons.
- Retired federal judge Kevin Thomas Duffy, 87, who presided at the World Trade Center bombing trial in 1993.
- Dr. John Murray, 92, who ironically specialized in acute respiratory distress.
These feelings apply not only to the famous or those with distinguished resumés. They cover every elderly grandparent or great-grandparent, every educator or mentor, every role model who had one more hug, one more teaching moment or one more example to share.
It does not matter if they had died of natural or non-virus related causes one day, week, month or year later. COVID-19 has robbed us, even if only briefly, of their talent, knowledge, experience and inspiration. Each and every death accelerated by the coronavirus, regardless of the victim’s age, is one death TOO SOON. Stay well.
For what it’s worth.
Even a social scientist who constantly warns others about the difference between correlation and causation can jump the shark when the evidence seems overwhelming. For me, that line blurred when comparing the inverse relationship between Donald Trump’s approval ratings to the length of his daily 5:00 p.m. “press beefings.” In what can only be labeled the ultimate April Fool’s joke, Trump’s margin of disapproval on April 1 dropped to a low of 3.9 percent (49.7 disapproval versus 45.8 disapproval), attributed in large part to his “somber tone” on March 28. (Source: FiveThirtyEight)
Forget the 70 days of denial, misinformation and inaction. Trump, for whatever reason, recognized he needed to step up to the plate (or in his case, the microphone). And step up he did. What began as a one-hour press conference expanded to 90 minutes, then two hours, until Monday when the event clocked in at a record two hours and 24 minutes. The next day FiveThirtyEight reported his net disapproval rating was back to 7.1 percent. (UPDATE: Still climbing, 7.3 percent as of this morning) There were other contributing factors. During the same time frame, the COVID-19 death toll among Americans surpassed that of any other nation. And the New York Times and Washington Post documented the extent to which Trump’s “no one saw this coming” was a “Grim Fairy Tale.”
But as more pundits than you can shake a swab at keep asking, “Why does Trump keep disgracing himself personally and politically with these inane reality shows?” If you can get past the fact the messages are confusing at best and dangerous to the public safety at worst (which we should not), you realize you are watching the unraveling of a pathetic human being. If you possessed just one ounce more empathy than Trump has shown the doctors, nurses, first responders, essential workers and victims of this pandemic, you might even feel sorry for him.
The pundits suggest this is unprecedented. They are wrong. We see it time and time again. Athletes who try to stay in the game long after their skills have diminished. The musician whose voice is shot or whose instrumental dexterity is long gone. The corporate executive, who comes out of retirement, does not realize the nature of commerce has changed dramatically since his last gig. Though perhaps the best metaphor is Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard, the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent movie star, who is convinced she has many more superb performances to share with her fans.
All these individuals, real and fictional, have two things in common. They crave the limelight and dread the possibility they are no longer relevant. And in that pursuit there is always one more comeback. Next season. The remix of a top-forty favorite. One more failing company in need of a white knight. Even when reality sets in, when the audience no longer shows up, they believe there is a second act just around the next corner.
Bill Maher, among others, has wondered whether someone will have to forcibly remove Trump from the Oval Office if he loses in November. I do not share their concern. It is far more likely he will, like Norma Desmond, make the January 20, 2021 finale of “Mr Trump Goes to Washington,” a prelude to his next fantasy (with apologies to Wilder and the other Sunset Boulevard screenwriters). As he stands on the south portico for the last time, Trump looks toward the television cameras and delivers his farewell missive.
And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after the White House, I’ll turn OANN into the next Fox News and build Trump Tower Moscow. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just me, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!… All right, Mr. Murdoch, I’m ready for my close-up.
[Fade to black.]
For what it’s worth.