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Post-hyperbole us

Happy new year.  The horror that was 2020 hangs like a cloud over 2021, but faint glimmers of hope coax us off the ledge:

There is a vaccine (in fact several) for Covid-19, even though it may be an unnecessarily tense wait for the vulnerable to be inoculated…and relief may be short-lived if resistant mutations arise.

Donald Trump WILL leave the White House no later than January 20, even if a removal van or a paddy wagon has to carry him away in his favorite chair.

It looks like Mitch McConnell will no longer enjoy a stranglehold on the Senate…and that means the American people may actually see those $2,000. relief checks come their way under the new Biden administration.

Unless DT goes full-on Strangelove some time in the next two weeks (a distinct possibility), we may avoid war with Iran and begin to reconstruct all the damaged alliances and trade relationships left in the wake of Trump’s wrecking-ball brand of diplomatic malpractice.

Can we see a return to “normal” in the foreseeable future?  Most unlikely.  Just as you can’t un-ring a bell, there is no way to erase the blot to America’s dignity and sense of democratic purpose left by this one unspeakable administration.

We are culturally bereft. So great were the abuses of the Trump years that even language has begun to desert us.  Trump’s inartful lies and distortions were framed by the dwindling vocabulary that usually signals dementia.  Coherent expression often escaped him entirely in his reach for self-gloried hyperbole.

“Everyone is saying…” “Largest Ever…”  “Most EVER…” “Biggest’  “Nobody does it better/knows more about it (whatever it is) than me.” The departing president never met a positive fact he couldn’t improve upon exponentially, or an outright lie he couldn’t render even less believable through inflation.  His purple rage at anyone who would’t carry his water has been routinely punctuated with exaggerated insults and name-calling that doesn’t even make sense..  

The counterpart is that, after four years of searching for descriptors for his venality and corruption, we are simply out of hyperbole.  Henceforth, we will be unable to say a public figure is the most “corrupt” “selfish” or “incompetent” without acknowledging DT as the former title holder.  It is a kind of immortality that Trump might actually appreciate since he craves everlasting attention.

What ever will we do with all the time we have wasted on defensive Trump-watch once he has been forced to surrender the nuclear football? There will be stories to tell for generations, but the gut-grinding fear of Trump’s evil whimsy will no longer punctuate our every conversation.  

Soon we’ll be well-rid of this abomination, but I tend to agree with the pessimists who say that as a nation, we can never be quite the same. We’ll limp into the future, a mere shadow of our former world stature.

“Great again?” I rather think not.

Biden/Harris 2020!!

Finally, we’ve got something to celebrate. It seems a very long time since we last heard some good news. I almost forgot what it was like.

I was resigned to whomever Joe Biden would pick, and prepared to be disappointed. Everyone whom I know was rooting for Kamala Harris. This, in my experience, almost guaranteed it wouldn’t be her. Just like my husband’s playoff picks, my support for a candidate usually means you can make book on a loss.

Not this time. Biden’s first executive decision is golden. I have no doubt that any of the women under consideration would have made a fine Vice President, but Kamala Harris was a standout. I would have preferred Bernie or Elizabeth Warren as the Presidential candidate, or Harris, herself; but for Vice President, she always was, hands-down, my first choice.

The thought of Mike Pence having to spar with her on a debate stage is absolutely delightful. She’s smart, poised, articulate and relatable; all things that he is not. To carry water for Donald Trump, Pence must defend indecency and corruption from the hypocrite’s corner. Not an enviable position. Add to that the fact that Harris is a WOMAN, a gender with which Mike Pence is apparently very ill at ease, and one can only hope he wears a double set of dress shields under the hot lights of the debate stage.

Should Joe Biden, as president, decide against a second term, Kamala Harris is the perfect age and profile to seamlessly turn the Biden /Harris agenda into the Harris/? agenda, as presidential candidate in 2024. She represents the future of the Democratic party.

We’ll be tearing out hair out over some stupid thing Trump will do or say tomorrow, but tonight let’s raise a glasss of good cheer for Kamala Harris, the people’s candidate for Vice President in 2020.

Lessons from Beirut

In the aftermath of the deadly Beirut blast that killed or injured thousands of people, if we are tempted to think something similar couldn’t happen here in the U.S, we should think again.

“So, rather than war or terrorism, this blast brings to a head … the deep paralysis, official corruption and unaccountability that Lebanese demonstrators had been protesting in huge numbers for months before the coronavirus pandemic shut them down.”

Sound familiar?

As much as anything, the Beirut “accident” is a story of corruption and spectacular regulatory failure; and the U.S. is headed down that same road at breakneck speed.

Over the past half century, there has been a growing backlash against government regulation in this country, that says regulation is an unnecessary intrusion into private business, ignoring the legacy of death and destruction that caused the country to adopt regulatory practices in the first place just to keep its citizens safe and its natural resources for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

This anti-regulatory bias has sadly come to define the Republican party, once a champion of environmental protection as well as fiscal responsibility. With the election of the most Ignorant president in our history, it has been elevated to the driver’s seat of public policy.

No one likes to submit to regulation themselves, but events as various as the Triangle Shirt Fire, the Love Canal, and the 1929 Stock Market Crash have succeeded in mustering a majority to demand limits be placed on even private industry in the interest of public safety.

Having long chafed under a regulatory system that attempted to protect citizens from grifters and cheats, in his 2016 campaign pitch, Donald Trump vowed to strip away regulations of almost every kind.

This is one promise he kept. 

Characteristically, the Trump administration mocked environmental concerns and characterized science as “elitist,” succeeding in undermining even undisputed fact among the followers of his cult of ignorance.  Apparently, when given the opportunity to embrace reality, a sizable portion of the American people willingly choose to believe the wholly unbelievable.

It was easy to pick-away at the underpinnings of the American regulatory system because he kept us all distracted with a daily pageant of outrage and violation that left little time for more subtle concerns.  

We’ve become accustomed to Donald Trump’s “opposite speak,” in which he characterizes anyone who stands against him as guilty of his own vices.  We’ve come to learn that when he lies, his “tell” is to repeat that lie over and over again and blame “fake news” for obvious discrepancies.

While autocratically grabbing for powers wildly beyond his constitutional scope, he refuses to accept responsibility for anything.

It’s an elaborate smoke screen to veil his uninterrupted self-dealing in fog.  He doesn’t care about anything other than his own preservation and vanity.

 We probably should be grateful that he has gotten so little done in his term as president.  If he had actually undertaken infrastructure “improvements,”  we could be looking at decades of public peril as shoddy workmanship, counterfeit materials and other products of corruption slowly revealed themselves in some spectacular, and possibly deadly infrastructure failures.  As bad as our bridges may be, can you imagine what Trump-era replacements might be like in ten years?

Donald’s Bad night in Tulsa

After the crushing disappointment of his Tulsa rally, the King of Lies and Excuses is already warming up a doozy of an excuse for the more and more likely outcome of the general election.


@realDonald Trump

(Did anybody ever tell this guy that it’s not necessary to SHOUT online?)

The burning question, “What will Donald Trump do if he loses reelection?”  has definitively been answered by the man himself.

He’s just getting a little bit ahead of the game by winding-up the lies before the pitch.

Of course the only candidate who has demonstrated any inclination to seek and accept help from foreign countries is the man himself, who only avoided impeachment for that very crime because his gutless co-conspirators control the Senate…for now.

This is the classic Donald Trump “tell”…or one of them.  Anything he claims is being done to him is something he is actively doing himself.  Like a three-year-old with his hand in the cookie jar, he doesn’t even try to be believable. “Cookie? What cookie? You ate all the cookies!”

When coming up short in the reelection lottery, most presidents grieve in private, then turn their attention to planning their library and leaving an inspiring note for the next Oval Office occupant.

In Donald Trump’s case, I think we can expect a display of lawless petulance by which even his worst history will pale.

He might take that opportunity to have a few hapless flunkies shot by executive order for treason; or he might provoke a war with North Korea.   If somebody doesn’t hurry to lock-up the nuclear codes, the whole world is in big trouble, because Donald doesn’t like to suffer alone.
My theory is that he will try to create some huge and probably horrible distraction while he and his traveling circus of vampires saddle up the ponies and head out on Airforce One to an undisclosed location.

In the wake of his departure, as the Bidens cautiously enter the White House, looking under the couch cushions and in the cellars will be a little like checking-out Saddam’s palaces after the fall.  You never know what secret horrors they’ll find.

Get Moving on Vote by Mail!

Just as we were beginning to think Republican Governor Phil Scott deserved a lot of credit for his responsible handling of the Covid-19 crisis, he threatens to undo that goodwill by dragging his feet on Vote-By-Mail.

Secy. of State, Jim Condos has set forward a timely plan that would ensure all qualified Vermonters will have the opportunity to make their voice heard in the November election, but the Governor wants to postpone a decision as to whether or not to go ahead with the plan, until August. 

That would give the state barely three months to develop the protocols, notify counties of guidelines, distribute ballots, inform voters about the procedures, allow for the necessary learning curve to address unanticipated problems, receive and process returned ballots for counting, and present a conclusion scenario in which voters may have full confidence.

That’s a very tall order, and failure on any of these measures would mean utter chaos and bitter divisions at the worst possible time in our history.

Condos has said the governor must approve the plan in the coming days to give the Secretary of State’s Office enough time to set up the infrastructure needed to strengthen the early and absentee ballot apparatus.

…And what exactly does the Governor think will happen between now and August to obviate the need for distance voting?  Does he buy Donald Trump’s narrative that COVID-19 will somehow magically “go away” by then?  I give him credit for much more common sense than that.  At best we might have a brief respite before the next wave, but not only is there the responsibility to ensure that voters are kept safe, concern by voters, themselves, for their safety could in itself suppress participation.

True, it would probably be easier on his Republican cred right now to delay, delay, delay in the hope that somehow he will be spared this difficult decision; but he knows full well that what is required of any political leader in a time of crisis is a profile in courage, not party loyalty.

The Republican Party has developed a reputation for attempts at voter suppression. At this critical juncture, Governor Scott would do well to avoid that appearance, himself.

Another Day in Purgatory

When I was a child in parochial school, “Heaven” and “Hell” were vividly contrasting reward and punishment scenarios.  “Purgatory” was much tougher to imagine. It seemed like nothing more than a long, not-unpleasant wait for something better.  Purgatory was a threat only for grown-up imaginations.

To this aging Baby Boomer, life amid the Coronavirus pandemic gives me my first real appreciation of the concept of Purgatory.  It is a life of potentially never-ending semi-isolation, in which we are held out of reach of friends and loved ones while our remaining time on earth ticks away devoid of variety and societal comforts: sameness unrelieved except by food and virtual engagements.

We have no idea when or even if the social privations will ultimately end.  When they do, we have no idea what kind of different world we will be entering…and it will, necessarily be a different world.

If a vaccine isn’t available within the coming year, time-honored but meaningless social gestures like the handshake, cheek kiss and double- cheek kiss will likely fade permanently from habit, as youngsters learn that these conventions are not just anachronistic but potentially dangerous.

Claustrophobics will be relieved to see the practice of packing into subway cars and buses being abandoned in favor of an etiquette of social distancing.? From a couple of trips to Tokyo in the 1990’s, I vividly recall the professional subway “pushers” employed to assist riders’ entry into over-packed subway cars.?

We may come to regard things like salad bars, self-serve soda and frozen custard dispensers as equally uncouth and unsanitary to food-sharing habits of our ancestors, like spoon-sharing and hand-scooping from a community bowl.

Unfortunately, use-and-toss items will likely return to favor as consumers place more emphasis on personal safety than environmental protection.  This is something about which we must already worry.  Combined with the plummeting cost of fuel, this change in focus could hasten the demise of the biosphere as a whole.

Our dependence on social media for work, school, shopping and hanging-out with friends will continue its upward trajectory in replacing live interactions.  We’re a curious but lazy species that cannot resist the lure of “more” for less effort.

In-person sex will never fall out of favor, but it will occur less frequently and less casually.  People will feel more compelled toward practical monogamy, but with less in-person dating, opportunities for connecting with the “right” partner might be few and farther between.

Inevitably, the birth rate will drop precipitously, both because of a decline in intimacy and the powerful disincentive that living through depression and the decline of a civilization has for posterity planning.

The poor and middle class will get poorer as the rich class swoops in to pick  over its financial carcass.  We’ve pretty well read their manifesto in Republican words about “sacrifice” for the sake of the economy and Donald Trump’s feelingless speculations on egregious death statistics for the people he claims to “love.”

This emotionally bankrupt governance of the nation in the face of crisis may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the United States’ constitutional experiment. If the people cannot depend on the president to tell them the truth or to protect them in times of peril, what is the whole point of having a chief executive? President Trump seems to think the purpose is to serve his own personal interests and whims, but our ancestors summarily rejected monarchy.

We are well-past time for a new Constitutional Convention.  The only reason no one is calling for one right now is because there is a universal sense that holding one must inevitably lead to a partisan impasse and the ultimate dissolution of the Union.

I think that we are coming to that, one way or the other.  Urged on by the health crisis and abdication of responsibility by our President, the Pacific states have already formed one regional alliance and the northeastern states are in the process of forming their own.  Can the southern states and midwest be far behind in shaping their own regional bodies?  

Once separate but equal under the law, the three branches of government have each been irretrievably broken through the cynical machinations of the Party of Trump.  Who knew they were so perilously fragile?

Democratic politicians are not entirely blameless in the decline and fall of the American democratic experiment.  However partisan they may be, though, Democrats are not guilty of the brazen cheating, excessive injustices and boldfaced lying that has redefined the Republican Party in the age of Trump.

Ten years from now, what will the judgement of history be?  Did we pull together to bring the runaway train to a screeching halt at the edge of the precipice or did we leave the madman at the helm and simply get what we deserved?

Thanks, But No Thanks.

Apparently Vermont is one of the nine states getting the “all clear” from Il Duce Don to end social distancing and resume business as usual by May 1.  It is unsurprising that he cares little for the lives of vulnerable people in the state least likely to support him in the upcoming election.

He might just as well say, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” because he’s made it very clear that he believes voter suppression is the only way that Republicans retain power.

Let me be among the first Vermont seniors to say, “No thanks, Mr. President.”  We don’t want to be the canary in your coal mine.

I give Phil Scott credit for a little more common sense than to follow his party’s nominal leader right off the Coronavirus cliff, but I think we should all make ourselves perfectly clear, nonetheless.

I propose that all the vulnerable people who have been endangered by Trump’s self-dealing and deliberate ignorance in the face of the pandemic begin to come together to develop a massive class action lawsuit against him, to launch the day after Joe Biden is inaugurated as President.  No doubt, it will be only one of many awaiting him on that blessed day.

Who cares whether any lawsuit succeeds in the long run!  The idea is to hound him and his family of horrors for the remainder of their days, just as surely as they have darkened ours.

What have you got to lose?

When Donald Trump was just an unlikely twinkle in the eye of voters unhappy with the first non-white president, he premiered the “What have you got to lose?” argument.  In the midst of the most conspicuously xenophobic election campaign in living history, he posed the rhetorical question to black voters, for whom he could offer no other reason for voting for him: “What have you got to lose.”

Without belaboring the disrespectful nonsense of the argument, suffice it to say that it was unsuccessful with the targeted audience even before we’d had a bellyful of his lies; but Donald Trump is not one to part with a losing strategy before beating it to death.? So it was unsurprising that in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with Americans dying all across the country, he trotted it out one more time to promote a very sketchy treatment, chloroquine, that had struck his fancy after being pitched by some of his equally sketchy “friends.”

“What have you got to lose?” by trying chloroquine, he urged repeatedly, sounding more like a medicine show huckster than the president of the United States.  

In this case, the answer to his question turns out to be, “Your life.”

Approved for the prevention and treatment of Malaria, and in use since the 1930’s chloroquine is not without serious potential, side-effects.  Cardiac issues are the ones that have been getting the most attention in the COVID-19 pandemic, but I have personal experience with one of the less familiar side-effects of the drug.

Thirty-seven years ago, my husband and I travelled to India for an East-West artist’s symposium.  It was an extraordinary experience for which we prepared with all the necessary shots and a prophylactic dosing of chloroquine that began a week or more before we flew to Mumbai (then Bombay) and continued briefly after our return.  I’m sure we received literature from the doctor describing possible side-effects, but we both felt fine and never gave the chloroquine a second thought.  

Luckily, I kept a journal during our travels because somewhere in the midst of the trip, I began to have terrible nightmares and a growing sense of foreboding.  India was full of sights and sounds that could easily account for some of this mental distress; but, by the time we returned home, it had grown into such a wave of paranoia that I had the notion we might die forgotten in the streets there if we didn’t leave at once.

That was, of course, crazy thinking.  After we returned home, the fantasmagoric nightmares continued for a brief time, then slowly receded.  I can still vividly recollect one of the last, in which I saw a figure huddled in dirty rags at the back of a cave.  When I approached it, the creature looked up at me and screamed horribly.  It had the face of one of my closest friends.

Some years later, my sister happened to mention the psychotropic effects of cholorquine and the penny finally dropped for me: the acute paranoia I had experienced in India and afterward was a known side-effect of my anti-malarial drug!

When Donald Trump began his “what have you got to lose” promotion of chloroquine  for COVID-19, I immediately recalled my own paranoid trip.  I was a completely sane and stable young woman on holiday.  

Nevermind the risk of heart attack, imagine what indiscriminate use of chloroquine among a population already in the grips of of the worst pandemic in modern history might produce in the way of psychotic complications!  

“What have you got to lose?”  How about your mind?

No April Foolishness

There’s no appetite for April Foolery around our house this year.? Every April 1, while my son was still home, it was a tradition for me to wake him up early, shouting, “Get up! Get up!? You’re late for school!” ? Even though it was an old gag, he fell for it most years, if only for the first few seconds before his mind cleared of sleep. ?

Today he lives and works in Montreal and, for the time being, we can only visit via FaceTime where the gag would be pretty much wasted.  I speak to him almost every day and am reassured that he and the cat are surviving his work-from home tenure in reasonably good spirits.

As of this afternoon, Vermont has 321 confirmed cases and sixteen deaths.  4,495 people have been tested, so far.

As of yesterday, the number of deaths was “only’ 13; so today’s death tally represents a single day increase of roughly 25%+…not great.

Still, we are in better shape (right now) than many other states; better enough so that Vermont Digger dared yesterday to ask if our “curve” was “flattening.  Monday, there were 256 cases and on Tuesday, there were 293 cases, an increase of just 37 new cases. Today’s increase represents just 28 new cases.

I already had to up the tally from 13 to 16. By the time I finish writing this brief diary, the stats may have changed and there may be no reason to be even cautiously optimistic.

Our son worries about us.  Even though my husband and I are generally pretty healthy, we are in the age bracket that has the most to fear from this disease.  I put myself in his place and remember how I would worry about my aging parents who lived far away in Chicago.

I worry about him, too.  Is he eating right and sleeping enough?  COVID-19 is fully prepared to take down young people as well as old.  I know he is observing social distancing and I feel for his stunted social life, being a young single male in the normally lively city environment. 

Fortunately, he has a great roommate and a sociable cat; so even without the internet, he won’t end up resorting to chats with the living room furniture.

For our part, down here in Vermont, my husband and I are finding a different kind of social distancing helpful; he, in his studio, and I, in the house.  With so much unrelenting togetherness forced upon us, a fair measure of “me-time” preserves the peace.  I can well imagine how difficult it is if you don’t have the luxury to go to separate spaces.

My friend Mary Beth, who lives alone with her cat in Tuscaloosa, is actually glad right now to be single.

She can’t imagine being confined to the house with any other human being for days unending! She chats with me and other friends via Skype, while working from home.  I think she’s writing about the Alabama experience from a northerner’s perspective.  Her neighbors provide quite a cast of characters and situations!

As I remind my 73-year-young husband, our job, is to observe strict social distancing, stay healthy and keep out of the way so that we do not complicate the already impossible lot of healthcare and essential service providers.  Not everyone will be able to manage that, so it doubley behooves those of us who can to do so.  

This is not the moment to climb a ladder or move a piano, if not absolutely necessary to rescue someone…and don’t let that “someone” be you!

Aged as we are, we are not the real victims of this thing.  As per usual, it is the poor and infirm who will inevitably pay the biggest price for the lack of preparation and poor response of our government.  Uniquely, though, scores of healthcare workers will join them this time as primary victims,.  

For the wealthiest nation in the world to fail so miserably in its duty of care is inexcusable…but there we are.

The Worst of Times

We’re in it now.  As of this afternoon, Vermont has 95 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths; but those figures represent only a moment in rapidly moving time.

When I take my little dog out for our daily walk through the empty streets of St. Albans,  I am largely impressed by my neighbors’ self-discipline.  We pass only the very occasional individual or couple, also out for a walk;  we wave from a careful distance and wish each other health.

If only this sort of distancing was being observed everywhere.

Social distancing is the single most important thing we can do in this crisis, but the President of the United States is dangerously using his “bully pulpit” to undermine that message and the urgency of the situation. 

Rather than focussing on supporting the needs of the poor, the sick and the unemployed, Donald Trump has turned his attention on the fantasy casino that is the U.S. stock exchange.

As it gyrates wildly in a largely downward trajectory,  he’s throwing good money after bad to prop it up, yet another time.

His daily press appearances get longer and longer, further and further distanced from reality: orgies of self-congratulatory nonsense.  He doesn’t want to listen to anyone who isn’t singing his praises, yet he assumes that the American people have an endless appetite for his repetitious blather.

This isn’t news.  We’re all stuck indoors, at the mercy of the ever worsening news cycle; and a side helping of Trump talk goes with every serving.   I promise myself daily that I won’t get sucked-in, but it’s damned hard not to peek every so often to find out what he’s been up to.

The answer is always the same: no good.

So I go back to knitting, reading, writing and planning our storeroom dinner, with the occasional reach out via Skype or FaceTime to family and friends.

It feels, for all the world, like the end of one of those “Twilight Zone” episodes, where an ordinary family awaits the apocalypse, all the while maintaining the routines of an irrelevant past.

“Bolt the hatch and pass the potatoes, Ma.”