Covid-19 and the confederacy of dunces


florida

You’ve got a lot of people in [the media] who wax poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York. Well, hell, we’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened… People just don’t want to recognize [our success] because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, May 21

We watched a video of DeSantis scolding the media and congratulating himself for being smarter than all the experts who had cautioned against prematurely scaling back efforts to halt the spread of covid-19.

Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez was incensed. “How did such an idiot become a governor? He looks like a freaking shoe store manager.”

“He ain’t smart enough to manage no shoe store,” Swamp Rabbit said, adjusting his dirty old cotton mask. “He’d screw that up, too. He’d order all the shoes in the same size and they’d all be wing-tips.”

I jumped in, ranting about recent statistics. Infection rates are way up, especially in the Sunbelt. Florida broke its own record for new single-day covid-19 cases on June 26, a little more than a month after DeSantis gloated over his great success in curtailing the virus.

“He’s so dumb he didn’t even understand that Florida infection rates wouldn’t stay low if lockdowns were lifted too soon,” I said.

Victor advised us to look at the big picture. The rot starts at the top, right? An incompetent, sociopathic real estate hustler rides a national wave of ignorance and bigotry all the way to the White House. He hires and fires staffers until he’s surrounded by obsequious hacks who are even dumber than he is. He uses his popularity with “the base” to ensure the loyalty of elected Republicans.

The country is hit with a mysterious, deadly virus. Republican governors make half-hearted efforts to limit its spread but always defer to Dear Leader, who denies the problem and won’t even wear a mask. It’s almost as if Republican officials were conspiring with their most ignorant constituents, who think mask-wearing and social distancing are threats to their liberty.

“It ain’t a conspiracy,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It’s a confederacy. Half the country is trying to do the right thing, the other half is whistling Dixie.”

Footnote: It’s not strictly a North/South split. Plenty of yahoos up North are helping spread the virus. Take a look at a resort like Wildwood, NJ, where business owners are hoping for a busy Fourth of July weekend.

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The thin blue lies


We were discussing whether the “l” in “testilying” was a typo or an intentional misspelling.

“It was on purpose,” I said. “The story is about how cops routinely lie in court and get away with it, something we talked about a few weeks ago. A lot of innocent people end up convicted unless there’s video disproving cop testimony. The person who was quoted in the article was just stating the obvious.”

Swamp Rabbit was unconvinced. “If it’s so obvious, then how come there ain’t been no public outcry to set things straight? How come the peeps put up with it?”

It depends on which peeps you’re talking about, I told him. If you’re poor and/or black, then you’ve probably had unpleasant encounters with cops and the courts, but you didn’t have the resources to fight back. You were too busy just trying to survive.

“Surviving is tougher these days,” Swamp Rabbit conceded, “but that’s on account of the virus. The justice system ain’t nearly as big a problem as that covid thing.”

We yelled so we could hear each other over the window fan in my shack. I told him the problems are related. The justice system has slowed to a crawl because of covid-19. Cops are arresting fewer people and fewer trials are being held because of the threat of spreading the virus in jails and in the courts.

“But the American justice system won’t change in the long run,” I predicted. “It’s like a meat grinder. It shreds you unless you can afford a good lawyer to challenge cop witnesses. Juries are always more likely to believe cops than defendants.”

“That might not be true no more,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Not after that video of what them cops did to George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks and them others. And not after the way they treated the peeps who protested them murders.”

“You’re wrong, rabbit,” I replied. “When things get back to normal, cops will get back to testilying. Juries will get back to believing them. Most of the news media, too.”

He laughed. “Things ain’t never going back to normal, whatever normal means.”

Footnote: I was called for jury duty in Philly a few days before the virus hit and the courts closed. They sit you in a big room with other potential jurors and hand you a questionnaire. One question is about whether you tend to believe the testimony of cops. I checked the “no” box because of my previous experience with cops and courts. They gave me a nine-dollar check and said, “You can go now.”

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Regarding a (fat orange) face in the crowd


“I think he’s done. Can I stick a fork in him now?”

Swamp Rabbit was reacting to Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK, where he managed to fill only 6,200 of the arena’s 19,000 seats after bragging that his campaign had fielded more than a million ticket requests. Watching his rant on TV, you could see the arena’s empty upper deck.

Afterwards, Trump’s fans and non-fans didn’t clash in Tulsa’s streets, even though Trump had done his best to make this happen by holding the rally only a day after Juneteenth and within a month of the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre.

During the event Trump condemned AOC and the radical left, lamented the fate of Confederate statues, and came out against further testing for the “kung flu.” He even attacked the media for commenting on the perilous journey he took down that stage ramp in West Point.

It was a desperate speech but I told Swamp Rabbit not to count out the hog monster, not yet. He made a fool of himself regarding covid-19 and the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, but most of his fans are still out there, still bigoted and stupid, although apparently not so stupid as to attend an indoor rally during a pandemic.

Swamp Rabbit said, “Ain’t no way that evil clown recovers from Tulsa. He looked shocked by them empty seats. Reminded me of that movie where the wanna-be dictator loses his base and has to use an applause machine to make up for nobody coming to his rallies no more.”

“You mean A Face in the Crowd,” I replied. “Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes. Patricia Neal as his long-suffering girlfriend turns up the studio sound and the TV audience hears him calling them pigs and idiots.”

“That’s the one,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump’s fanboys ain’t heard him call them names yet but they saw him holding a Bible upside down, and they heard him tell them back in the winter that the virus was under control. They’re gonna toss him like an empty bag of Cheetos.”

“We’ll see, rabbit. I wish they’d toss him before he tries to steal the election.”

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‘Autocrat’ doesn’t quite say it


We were reading from Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, a book that has appeared at exactly the right time:

If politicians, journalists, and even kitchen-table debaters adopted the habit of defining their terms, we would understand each other better — and begin the process of restoring language.

Gessen’s words brought up a pet peeve of mine regarding the mainstream media: At what point in an ongoing story should reporters and editors drop the euphemisms and start using terms that more accurately describe unsavory public figures and their actions?

“Who cares about your pet peeve?” Swamp Rabbit said.

We all should care, I told him, because the country is still reeling from some of Donald Trump’s worst abuses of power thus far, including using the U.S. military to disperse protesters in order to stage a photo op on Lafayette Square, and threatening to deploy 10,000 troops to put down protests in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

The sad fact is that most major media outlets are only now coming to terms with the role they played in enabling Trump by refusing to recognize that he was, as Gessen puts it, “probably the first major party nominee who ran not for president but for autocrat.”

“What’s she mean by autocrat?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Is that the same as dictator?”

Good question. I told him an autocrat is an all-powerful leader and so is a dictator. But the word autocrat isn’t supposed to convey the same menace as dictator. According to one online site, “An autocrat lacks the personality cult or charisma of a dictator and this probably restrains him from taking extreme decisions that could severely hurt his people.”

Swamp Rabbit was still confused. “So why does Gessen use the word autocrat? Trump has a cult following and he don’t care who he hurts. Don’t that make him a wanna-be dictator?”

Another good question. I told him that Gessen and respectable journalists everywhere prefer to avoid using explosive terms like “dictator” because such terms make them sound like their arguments are rooted in emotional bias rather than in reason. The last thing a mainstream journalist wants to be called is biased.

“That don’t make no sense,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump has been lying forever but it took them reporters a couple of years to call him a liar. And it took them even longer to call him a racist, even though he made a million racist remarks and spread the lie that Barack Obama was a Kenyan. Biased is beside the point if you got your facts straight.”

I heaved a big sigh. “I don’t know, rabbit. This is the first time the media had to deal with a president who is totally, unabashedly rotten — a guy who would shred the Constitution if he could — and with an entire political party that would shred it with him in order to stay on top. Autocrat fits.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “Autocrat is too polite. It don’t quite say it.”

I shrugged. “You say potato, I say po-tah-toe.”

“I say lying racist wanna-be dictator. That’s Trump.”

Footnote: Surviving Autocracy is about a lot more than just Trump, but Swamp Rabbit’s point is a good one. There’s no sense in trying to make an argument if we don’t define our terms, right?

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Who do you believe, police or your lying eyes?


Swamp Rabbit wanted to know what I thought of the four Minneapolis cops who were arrested and charged in the killing of George Floyd. I told him lying with impunity used to be one of the perks of the job, but those days might be ending.

“Ain’t it the truth,” he said as we watched another video, this one of Buffalo cops. “Back in the day, cops could knock down a 75-year-old then step over him like he was a piece of trash. They’d say he tripped over his own feet and that would be that, case closed.”

We agreed that the game has changed. Thanks to phone cameras and other gadgets, peace officers can’t even poke white protesters with clubs let alone kill black people just for the hell of it.

“Two of them Buffalo cops got arrested,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Their homeys must be having second thoughts about their jobs. Why be a cop if you can’t beat up the peeps who don’t move when they see you coming?”

I told him he’s right, 57 cops have resigned from the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team to protest what happened to their two fellow officers.

Swamp Rabbit stroked his chin whiskers and nodded. “I think that means they’re still on the force, but they don’t have to respond to no emergencies.”

“Nice work if you can get it,” I said.

Footnote: Swamp Rabbit thinks my opinion of cops is too low, there are some good ones, I’d better hope I don’t have to call them someday in an emergency. I told him I did call them once in an emergency but when they arrived, two hours later, they almost arrested me, not the bad guy, who was long gone. “There are good cops, but it’s often safer to take your chances with the bad guys,” I said.

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Would you like more curfew with your lockdown?


Philadelphians join nation wide Anti-Police brutality protest
NBCPHILADELPHIA

I was jawing with Swamp Rabbit when my phone started making those strange emergency alert noises. “Only essential personnel allowed outside,” the text read. WTF? We figured a tornado was coming, or maybe a nuclear attack.

In fact, the alert was to announce an 8 pm to 6 am curfew to help Philadelphia weather the wave of protest that has rocked American cities since we all saw the video of white cops slowly killing an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.

It was a racially diverse crowd of protesters in Philly, as it was in many other cities. Most of them were peaceful but a rowdy contingent was trashing shops and restaurants in Center City, a long way from my shack in the Tinicum swamp but close enough to be distressing.

“We’re screwed,” I said. “A lot of those stores were closed for months because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Now they’re being looted. The one-two punch could knock them out for good. The city might never recover.”

“Don’t blow your wig,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “It could be worse. There ain’t no shootin’ going on.”

The next day, Sunday, I dragged myself out of the swamp and biked uptown to see the damages. Walnut Street still smelled like smoke. Workers were sawing off chunks of plywood to seal up some of the trashed storefronts. Swamp Rabbit was right — no shootings, and the destruction could have been much worse.

But it wasn’t over. Later that day looters hit other retail spots, including the 52nd Street business strip in a mostly black neighborhood where renewal efforts have been going on for a long time. I told Swamp Rabbit that the looting of small businesses there was sickening.

“Not as sickening as them cops murdering George Floyd in broad daylight,” he said. “Or them white-collar looters using that stimulate package to steal billions that should go to poor peeps.”

“You mean stimulus package, rabbit, but never mind. Maybe these protests are the tipping point. When tempers cool, we can…”

My phone started squawking with red alert sounds; it was curfew time again.

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At times, history rhymes


trump bible

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’”
Halford E. Luccock, 1938

The “how low can he go” question came up again yesterday. This time Dear Leader had the cops use tear gas to chase peaceful protesters so he could pose with a Bible for a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, not far from the White House.

Swamp Rabbit was reading over my shoulder. “What’s up with the Bible?” he said. “Everybody knows Trump don’t read no holy books. He don’t even read them morning briefings from his cronies.”

“His base likes when he uses props — Bibles, flags, churches, whatever,” I explained. “It makes them feel all warm and hateful inside.”

“But that’s such an old trick,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You’d think the peeps would get sick of evil guys waving flags and Bibles by now.”

I shrugged. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, rabbit. Especially if the old tricks still work for him.”

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Why no editorials urging Trump to exit?


right thing 3

I think we will look back and ask why people weren’t more furious… Where was the outrage?
— Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that all the mainstream news outlets are dropping the ball the same way: They constantly present evidence that Donald Trump is a danger to the country but refuse to call for what the evidence seems to demand — his resignation from office.

“That’s crazy talk,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump was impeached and didn’t resign. I’ll bet he don’t leave the White House even when he loses the election, not unless them palace guards drag him out.”

You’re missing the point, I told him. Of course Trump won’t resign, but it’s important for all democrats, small d, to go on record as having demanded he quit, because he has repeatedly demonstrated he isn’t fit to hold office.

“The election’s less than six months away,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Why not just wait and let the peeps decide?”

So I told him. For starters, Trump extorted a foreign power for personal gain, obstructed justice during the Mueller probe, and ignored the coronavirus pandemic until it was too late to prevent many thousands of avoidable deaths. With each passing week he becomes more dismissive of the laws and so-called norms that supposedly govern presidential behavior.

This week he took action to discourage Twitter from policing misinformationhis misinformation — on its site. Does anybody think he wouldn’t silence all those who challenge his lies if he thought he could get away with it?

“A lotta presidents did dirty deeds,” Swamp Rabbit countered. “Are you saying the media should have called on them all to resign?”

I reminded him that many major newspapers in the country called on Bill Clinton to resign when all he did was lie about a blowjob.

“But that was the old days, before the Internet started siphoning the regular media’s power and influence,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Most of them newspapers are dead or dying now. The survivors are scared they gonna lose what little pull they got left if they stand up to Trump in a big way. Why should they?”

“Because it might persuade some people to not vote for a would-be dictator,” I replied.

Swamp Rabbit groaned. “That’s really weak, Odd Man.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “How about this — They should call on him to resign because it’s their job to speak truth to power, pardon the cliché. What good are they if they can’t do that?”

Update: Here’s Trump threatening street protesters (via Twitter, of course) following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” As always, very presidential.

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Betting on a sure thing (covid-19)


covid

Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez asked me if I wanted to bet against his bet that covid-19 deaths in the U.S. would hit 100,000 by Memorial Day. (The death count as of today was about 95,000.)

“That’s tasteless,” I said. “You are the ultimate degenerate gambler.”

He shrugged. “All the ballgames have been canceled because of the lockdown, so I’m betting on the virus. What else is there?”

I told him to bet on the stock market, investors are doing well now that they know the big corporations are being bailed out. The more workers get laid off, the better the market does. At least it seems that way.

“The stock market is a roller coaster,” Victor said, laughing behind his face mask. “Better to bet on death, it’s a sure thing.”

I tried to tell him he wasn’t in his right mind, none of us were. Unemployment might soon be as high as it was in the Depression. An orange hog monster is in the White House, doing a disastrous job of leading the country out of its worst public health crisis in a hundred years.

“You’re like most of us,” I said. “You feel adrift in unsafe waters, hoping to be rescued before the sharks get to you.”

He rolled his eyes. “Very poetic, but where’s Swamp Rabbit? I dropped by his shack but there’s nothing there but empty liquor bottles. Drinking is a parole violation in his case. I’ll bet he’s not wearing his face mask either.”

“Can you blame him?” I said. “The hog monster doesn’t wear a mask, and he’s supposed to be setting an example for the whole country.”

I told Victor to leave Swamp Rabbit alone. Take the day off. Watch a rerun of an old Super Bowl on ESPN.

He pulled his mask down to his chin. “You can’t bet money on a game that’s already been played.”

Then he said, “Are you sure you don’t want to bet on Memorial Day?”

Footnote: Back in April, a pro gambler in Nevada bet 10K that covid-19 would claim 100,000 victims by Sept. 1. It was his way of focusing the public’s attention on fighting the virus. Then he turned another 10K bet into a way to raise money for the homeless. Check it out.

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Channel surfing through lockdown


**FILE**  SpongeBob SquarePants is shown in this handout provide

My neighbor Swamp Rabbit knocked on my door and let himself in when I didn’t open it.

“Why don’t you quit tweaking that thing?” he said, meaning the short story I was writing. “I bet you ain’t changed ten words in ten hours.”

I shrugged. “We’re in a lockdown. I’m sheltering in place. I’ve got all the time in the world.”

He turned on my TV, which he likes to watch when he’s hungover. Then he picked up the remote and got into a channel-surfing rhythm, pushing past cable news and a couple of miniseries on HBO. The sports channels were showing a very quiet game of baseball in South Korea (no fans in the ballpark because of social distancing rules) and a Phillies game from 1992.

I’m not a major fan of Bruce Springsteen, but I couldn’t help thinking of an oldie of his called “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On).”

“Why don’t you get your guitar and play that song you wrote about the COVID-19?” I said.

“I need my TV fix,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “If all else fails, there’s always some new show about Hitler. He ain’t never goin’ go out of style.”

“No politics,” I warned him. “No orange hog monster.”

Snippets of TV shows from another century appeared one after the other — “Gilligan’s Island,” “Perry Mason,” “Friends.” None of this stuff felt good for my eyes, not to mention my mental health.

After a while I told Swamp Rabbit to settle on something and he narrowed the options to three movies and a cartoon show. I read the titles and plot summaries on the TV screen.

Invasion U.S.A.: “Slavic mercenaries with bazookas hit Florida at Christmas, drawing an agent (Chuck Norris) out of retirement.”

Song of India: “A prince of the jungle (Sabu) frees beasts trapped by zoos for callous Indian royalty.”

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: “During a rescue mission, Jean Grey is hit by a cosmic force that makes her infinitely more powerful but far more unstable. The X-Men must unite to save her soul…”

SpongeBob SquarePants: “SpongeBob and Patrick must save Mr. Krabs when he gets trapped in the bank.”

“I’m gonna pass on them movies,” Swamp Rabbit said. “What about a psycho-killer biography or one of them shows about peeps in jail? You know, real lockdowns.”

He surfed past a few hundred more channels. The Hitler shows were all reruns. In the end he went with SpongeBob, for obvious reasons. (Cue up Springsteen video.)

Footnote: Actually, TMC is good sometimes, and there’s always Netflix.

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