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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

For Democratic Society, Some Monumentally Hard Decisions Ahead

One of the recently vandalized monuments is a statue of poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Someone smeared "BLM" and "(expletive) Slave Owners" on the seated figure prominently displayed in the city named after him, Whittier, California.

It happens that Whittier was a fiery abolitionist from Massachusetts. In a famous 1833 pamphlet, he called slavery "the master-evil before which all others dwindle into insignificance."

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In Reopening Casinos, The Virus Is The Dealer

Those who wagered on a visit to Las Vegas confronted mixed messages on mask wearing, to say the least.

Casino guests had to wear face coverings at tables and card games if there were no shields between dealers and each player. Other gamblers were encouraged to wear masks but didn't have to. Casino employees were ordered to wear masks, however.

Caesars Entertainment was paying guests at its five Vegas casinos $20 to wear masks — if they were Caesars Rewards members. You've gotta salute a customer loyalty program that turns protecting your life into another perk.

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Tulsa Showed Us The Best Path Toward November

What didn't happen in Tulsa last weekend was gratifying and a relief. The protests against racism were overwhelmingly orderly. President Donald Trump's rally also proceeded without serious incident and, notably, without much of an audience.

And this didn't happen for lack of provocation. Trying to whip up excitement for his revived rally schedule, Trump started the weekend with a bloodcurdling threat against protesters should they step out of line. Oklahomans, he opined, would not treat protestors in Tulsa with the same delicacy allegedly afforded those in liberal New York, Seattle and Minneapolis. The tweet doubled the offense by lumping protesters with "anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes."

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Only Trump's Removal Can Relieve Our Deep National Grief

COVID-19 is not at all over and shows every sign of staging a return. We've been through a lot of fear, depression, and losses of income and loved ones. Much can't be changed, but the leadership can, from sloppy governors to President Donald Trump at the top of the heap. Trump seems not just incapable of forming a rational response to a virus but also uninterested in doing so — and the public seems to know it.

He's thrust a broken-country model on America whereby the ruling family directs the country's resources to its close relatives and assorted hangers-on. Protective barriers to corruption have been junked. It's been astounding to see the president remove five inspectors general including the top Pentagon watchdog assigned to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — assigned to oversee the $2 trillion in taxpayer money set aside to revive the economy.

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The Pandemic Is Already Cooling The Planet — Will It Do More?

Some say the pandemic has become a permanent ally in the fight against climate catastrophe. It has jump-started a drop in the burning of fossil fuels, and that will continue. Others say this is short-term thinking: The public may abandon its concerns over global warming as it tries to climb out of the economic hole left by the COVID-19 lockdowns. Let's accentuate the positive.

First off, the government-mandated social distancing and its freezing of much industrial activity has already cut greenhouse gas emissions, certainly for the time being. The International Energy Agency predicts that global carbon emissions will have fallen about eight percent this year from 2019's level. That would be the biggest annual decline ever.

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Defund The Police? Stop Misusing The Language

You know you have a stupid declaration on your hands when you have to explain what some on your side really mean. Such is the burden of Democrats trying to limit the damage from the childish demands to "defund the police."

Oxford's U.S. dictionary defines "defund" as "prevent from continuing to receive funds." To the educated ear, defund registers as abolish.

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Sweden Abandons Its Deadly Pandemic Policy

Sweden offered hope that the coronavirus could be reined in without great inconvenience or economic pain. Unlike its neighbors in Scandinavia and elsewhere, Sweden didn't put its people in strict lockdown. Restaurants, bars and shops buzzed with their usual customers. Gyms stayed open, and kids under 16 went to school.

Images of Swedes sunning themselves at crowded cafes dowsed many quarantined Americans and Europeans with envy. Even as other societies start letting people venture forth, they still generally require masks for entry in stores and other businesses.

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Christian Cooper’s Super Power Is Self Control

I come here not to condemn Amy Cooper, the white woman who called police and falsely claimed that an African American man named Christian Cooper was attacking her, but rather to praise Christian Cooper, who had done nothing more than ask her to leash her dog. The confrontation happened in New York's Central Park, where dogs are supposed to be kept on leashes.

National media pounced on this tale of two unrelated Coopers, captured by Christian on video. The easy storyline focused on a clash between an evil racist and a blameless black victim. Christian had been out in the park bird-watching, of all things.

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What Biden Doesn’t Need To Do Right Now

Joe Biden has not been loudly beating up on President Donald Trump for his pathetic performance during the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has already killed over 80,000 Americans and cratered the economy. And the United States has become an object of international pity.

"Why is Biden sitting at home?" chronically anxious Democrats ask.

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America’s Governors Do The Job, Even If Trump Won’t

You'd think that even a president who claimed "absolute authority" would step aside as groups of West Coast and East Coast governors devise strategies for reopening their economies without causing a spike in coronavirus cases. They know their hot zones and travel patterns across state borders. A president committed to the public weal might even ask the governors, "How may I help?"

But that's not the president we have. Trump commandeered the national conversation with that ridiculous assertion — and then backed down the next day.

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Is This Pearl Harbor — Or War Of The Worlds?

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that this week of mounting death from the novel coronavirus could be "our Pearl Harbor moment." He was referring, of course, to the surprise 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base in Honolulu, which pulled the nation into World War II.

Pearl Harbor would be a reasonable description of our awakening to the virus threat were the pandemic not identified months ago. A better comparison might be found in The War of the Worlds, the sci-fi horror story by H.G. Wells. Published in 1898, the novel depicts in detail a Martian invasion of our planet.

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The Rainbows Behind The Coronavirus Crisis

Milan is the V-8 engine of Italy’s economy. Known as an industrial and financial powerhouse, Milan is also famous for its foul air. Now the city and its region, Lombardy, have become the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus pandemic. To stop the virus’ spread, factories, offices, restaurants and bars are closed. People are ordered to stay at home. The traffic is gone.

And the air is much cleaner. Satellites report a dramatic drop in the region’s air pollution. Since the lockdown started on March 9, the levels of nitrogen oxide in northern Italy have plunged dramatically. NO2 is a toxic gas that can cause inflammation of the body’s air passages. Clean air has been a bright spot in the region’s immense suffering.

Earlier, when China closed down its industry and told residents in the infected areas to shelter in place, the satellites noted a large drop-off in China’s air pollution. Once the virus was contained and China restarted economic activity, pollution picked up.

This is not, of course, a call to freeze the American economy until the U.S. totally wipes out the coronavirus. Business must resume at some point, though let’s pray that our political leaders have the wisdom to retain the ban on large human gatherings until this horrid microbe is under control.

This is merely a call for the world’s industrialized peoples to breathe deeply and think: Clean air is kind of nice. Smog, the kind of air pollution you see and smell, also causes lung disease. And a byproduct of cleaning the air is a lowering of planet-warming gas emissions. Climate change will remain an existential threat long after the coronavirus is tamed.

Perhaps this direct experience — easier to comprehend than the scientists’ complicated models — will build support for a faster move to clean energy. My editor, Alissa Stevens, in notoriously smoggy Los Angeles says, “Skies are clearer than we’ve ever seen.” The city was recently treated to a double rainbow over the Pacific Ocean, visible end to end. Everyone understands that.

The coronavirus has shuttered Venice, Italy. The massive waves of tourists are gone. No day-trippers. No gigantic cruise ships. The remaining Venetians have been ordered indoors.

But for some populations in Venice, social gatherings are booming. Shoals of tiny fish have returned to the canals. The daily flotilla of boats that churned up waves, making the water muddy, has been stilled. The canals are now hosting crabs and new plant life. Large water birds can be seen diving for fish, and ducks are leaving eggs.

Though tourism is Venice’s economic lifeblood, not everyone there is totally unhappy with the quiet. There’s been a growing movement in recent years to curb the city’s overwhelming tourist numbers (20 million a year!) and restore some serenity to “La Serenissima.”

Bad air can add to a virus’ death toll. Researchers in China and the U.S. looked at mortality during the earlier outbreak of the SARS virus. They found that patients in areas with heavy pollution were twice as likely to die from the virus as those living under clearer skies.

Cai Xue’en, a delegate of China’s National People’s Congress, told Bloomberg News that in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, “I think environmental protection will rank even higher for both the central and local governments.”

No, we don’t want a return to the pre-industrial age. Those who argue that an economy in deep recession, or even depression, is also bad for people’s health have a point. But reduced pollution gives us a window into what we could experience daily were the environment cleaner. Sure, that may involve economic tradeoffs, but some would be worth making for a life more in tune with the Creation.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

The Togetherness Of Social Distancing

As the coronavirus stops normal life, trapping more Americans in their homes, some have raised the specter of another health threat: loneliness. Before this crisis seized our anxieties, much discussion centered around the dangers of perceived social isolation and feeling cut off from others.

A 2015 analysis by Brigham Young University found loneliness is a bigger cause of early death than obesity. And so we must ask: Is all this social distancing — staying away from other humans as a way to curb the virus’ spread — adding to loneliness?

No, on the contrary. With everyone in the same boat, those who felt alone may now sense they have company. The popular hashtag #alonetogether captures the seeming contradiction.

It’s one thing to sit home by yourself and see everyone else enjoying friends, family and a good time out. But if everyone is stuck home on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights, it’s harder to feel that you’re deprived of companionship and others aren’t.

Not going places has freed up time — and the need — for communicating with fellow humans by phone, email, texting and social media. People I rarely see have been connecting with me, ending their communications with “please stay in touch.”

I’ve heard from an Italian friend in Turin, a coronavirus hot spot in full lockdown. Once hopeful, Donato’s emails grow more desperate by the day. His last one predicts that Americans will soon share the tragedy now visiting Italy. Is that some sort of consolation, that Italy is not alone in its suffering? He asks that I keep writing, and I do, every day.

I’d been out of touch with my cousin Janet when she messaged me on Twitter from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Having just returned from London, she was stuck in massive crowds trying to get through screening at the airport.

For an hour we tweeted back and forth. She described the crazy situation at the airport, and I sent links of new reports on the mess she and airline passengers elsewhere were experiencing. I was also easing her boredom.

My friend Don is a teacher in New York City. He’s giving lessons remotely, which he could do from anywhere, including far from the city’s coronavirus outbreak. Don has received offers to be hosted out of town. He wants to stay in the city, however, so he can experience and share his students’ struggles.

My 95-year-old aunt lives in an assisted living facility in Florida. Before this pandemic, Aunt Shirley had been a bit depressed living among other old people who were, in her words, “on their last legs.” She mourned the loss of her vital self.

Needless to say, the coronavirus has shrunk her physical world further. No resident may leave the building. No visitors may enter. Of course, all the communal activities have been canceled.

Well, that’s now everyone’s life.

When she called this week, Aunt Shirley was unexpectedly chipper. No longer just another old lady getting through the day in a cloistered institution, she was part of a larger mobilization — not unlike the Great Depression or the world war she knew all about. She now has a commanding role as family matriarch, checking in on and advising the younger folks. And we’re all calling Aunt Shirley more frequently.

Ironically, demands for social distancing are forcing some Americans into closer proximity. A friend in Houston reports that her bookshop job has been frozen to minimize contact with others. But with her sons’ colleges closed, Amanda is now overseeing a house packed with three children and a husband working from home.

Good luck to them. Good luck to everyone. We’re all occupying the same strange times, and that’s a form of togetherness, isn’t it?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Votes Do Matter, Bernie

If Bernie Sanders were amassing a nearly insurmountable lead in the delegate counts, I have little doubt that he would be saying to Joe Biden: “Democrats have spoken. Time to drop out and help the team.”

But doing what he expects of others is not Bernie’s way. As in the past, he can stay in, waving the implied threat that not adopting his program might cause his base to stay home in November. The impolite word is “extortion,” which Sanders launders with baloney claims that he is, somehow, actually winning.

My favorite is “We are winning the generational debate.” Sanders said this right after Joe Biden crushed him in Super Tuesday II. Sanders had just lost his working-class firewall of Michigan, plus Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and even Sanders-friendly Washington. (He won only North Dakota.)

By “generational debate,” Sanders meant he was prevailing among younger voters, which is true. But he is apparently not doing well among young nonvoters, who, contrary to the campaign’s claims, are not showing up in vast numbers to support him.

Camp Bernie fantasizes that young people’s votes count more than old people’s votes. For demographic reasons, Sanders was expected to lose Florida and Arizona. But Biden bested him by nearly 40(!) percentage points in Florida — and at a time when the coronavirus is scaring a lot of elderly voters away from the polls.

The Sanders campaign continually boasts that it is winning the small-donations race. “We’re especially proud that of the more than 2 million donations we received this month, over 1.4 million were from voters in states that vote on Super Tuesday,” Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, said at the start of March.

Sanders’ ability to raise large sums in small quantities is genuinely impressive. And it follows that the Vermonter would not be beholden to big-money interests. But dollars are not votes. Votes are something Americans cast free of charge — and not by writing checks, whatever the size. Votes determine the winner.

Two days later, Super Tuesday happened. After greatly outspending Biden, Sanders lost 10 of the 14 states including Texas and Virginia. He did grab the biggest prize, California, though by fewer than 7 percentage points. Vermont’s neighbors, Massachusetts and Maine, went for Biden.

After losing badly on Super Tuesday II, Sanders vowed not to end his campaign. He explained, “Poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda.”

It’s a cliche but true that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. But it’s not hard to “win” a poll if you word it in your favor. Sanders often cites the polls finding that most Americans like the idea of his “Medicare for All.” Other polls, however, show that even more Americans object to losing their private coverage, which his proposal would ban. How do you explain that discrepancy? Marketing.

What Sanders calls Medicare for All is not Medicare. It’s a Canadian-style single-payer system. However one feels about the Canadian system, the fact remains that Canada forbids people from buying private coverage for services included in the government plan. Medicare is a mixed-payer program combining government insurance with a good deal of regulated private coverage.

To we who have followed the health care battles over the years, Biden’s proposals to expand government’s role is plenty progressive. But if you buy into Sanders’ contention that the coronavirus pandemic will drive people toward his more radical ideas, you have to ask yourself: Why does Sanders lose by progressively bigger margins as this virus rampages?

It’s those darn voters. They get in the way every time.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

AOC Can Choose Between The Future And The Abyss

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hitched her star to Bernie Sanders — and vice versa. AOC brought a young, hip Latina vibe to the elderly Sanders’ rallies. Photogenic and enjoying a massive social media presence, she joined Bernie in the far left’s crusade to take over the Democratic Party.

Joe Biden now commands a nearly insurmountable lead in Democratic delegates, thanks to a multiracial coalition including the white working-class voters Sanders believed he’d attract. Biden also has suburban women, whom Sanders hasn’t even tried for.

This whole mythology of a socialist uprising by people of color, blue-collar workers and a wave of millennials has fallen apart. It isn’t that many other Democrats don’t like some of Sanders’ proposals. Rather, they understand that their issues would be better addressed by Biden for the simple reason that Biden could defeat President Donald Trump and Sanders could not.

Sanders has also lost friends by attacking his Democratic hosts more than his Republican opponents. AOC has joined in, devoting much energy to challenging moderate Democrats who had fought their way into Congress in hard-to-win districts.

Fortunately, her candidates lost. The most prominent battle was a primary challenge by AOC’s “Justice Democrat” candidate Jennifer Cisneros against Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas. Cuellar and his family have been fixtures in this socially conservative district, which includes much of the Rio Grande Valley. He won, though narrowly.

The Justice Democrats have a nearly unblemished record of defeat. In the 2018 midterms, 16 candidates tied to Justice Democrats lost. None won. Bernie’s Our Revolution movement backed 22 lefty Democrats. Twenty-two lost.

AOC is a smart woman. She couldn’t help but notice that, her presence at Sanders rallies notwithstanding, the sea of faces were almost all white — even in a mostly black and Latino neighborhood near her congressional district in Queens and the Bronx.

And she surely knows that her upset 2018 primary win against Democratic fixture Joe Crowley came courtesy of newly arrived college-educated whites in her district. Black and Latino voters in AOC’s own Bronx neighborhood overwhelmingly supported Crowley.

Why am I bothering to advise AOC, when she can be so irritating? Because I retain a spark of affection for the charismatic young woman. She is street savvy and a fast learner. She has a sense of humor and is a superb communicator. She also has a good life story, having grown up in a working-class Puerto Rican family. She can repeat her bio a million more times. (For the record, Cuellar came from even harder hard knocks; his father was a Mexico-born migrant laborer.)

As losers go, Sanders is pathetic. He’s now blaming his primary losses on the “venom” of the “corporate media.” He claims that Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg were forced by the “power of the establishment” to endorse Biden. As usual, he’s blaming rich people in general.

He’s even gone after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for endorsing Biden. “Well, that wasn’t her thoughts when I came here to help her get elected,” Sanders griped. Sanders may have forgotten that he campaigned for the man who challenged Whitmer in the primary.

AOC would do best walking away from this car wreck. She should go forth, work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stop trying to curb the careers of Democrats elected in districts far from her own. She doesn’t have to give up her political beliefs. She just has to stop being a constant pain in the butt for Democrats.

In terms of intelligence and energy, Ocasio-Cortez has the raw materials for national leadership. Does she want that? Or would she rather become a martyr for a movement in decline? I hope she chooses the future.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Experience Sanders Couldn’t Buy — Even With Bloomberg’s Money

Mike Bloomberg was elected New York mayor two months after the outrage of Sept. 11, 2001. He took over a city reeling with grief and suffering economic losses tied to the terrorist attacks. Rather than lay off public workers who had performed gallantly in the crisis, he raised taxes on the well-to-do.

The conservative media beat him up with their usual argument that tax hikes kill off business. The opposite happened. The city grew new veins. Bloomberg led this revival with grit and smarts, not his personal wealth.

That’s what Bloomberg should be talking about and everyone else should be hearing. Bloomberg must explain that he brings to the table an experience and success in public service unmatched by any other candidate.

A New York mayor must manage the nation’s largest city, a cauldron of races and ethnicities. That’s why it is called the second toughest job in America. Bloomberg was elected to it three times.

There is something perverse about Bernie Sanders accusing Bloomberg of racism. The ’60s was a time of rising crime, racial tension and white flight (followed by black middle-class flight) out of the cities. In 1968, Sanders joined a liberal white flight to the whitest state, Vermont.

He and other ex-New Yorkers could hang around Burlington coffee shops and plan a socialist utopia without having to deal with angry black people. (Cameo appearances at civil rights marches did not hide that fact.)

Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy — for which he has apologized — was a great mistake because it mostly swept up black and Latino men simply going about their business. But it was intended to take guns off the streets in a city where up to 96 percent of the shooting victims were black or Latino.

Sanders voted against the Brady bill five times. Consider the racial implications of his saying that he opposed gun control because guns weren’t a problem in Vermont.

Bloomberg’s activism in this area has won him the endorsement of prominent African Americans. One is Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), who lost her 17-year-old son to gun violence. A Democrat, McBath made headlines in 2018 by flipping the suburban Atlanta seat once occupied by Newt Gingrich. Hers is the sort of district that would be imperiled were Sanders at the top of the ticket.

I happen to think that mass extinction as the Earth burns up is a bigger issue than some boneheaded comments Bloomberg may have made in the pre-“Me Too” era. When President Donald Trump said he’d pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, Bloomberg was the American voice assuring our allies that American cities, states and businesses would take over from Washington and meet the goals. He has helped lead that effort.

Sanders is the only Democrat to oppose a tax on carbon, widely considered one of the essential tools for reducing emissions. Canada, Western Europe and all of Scandinavia have put prices on carbon. So have California and nine states in the Northeast.

Bloomberg is right that he’s the only candidate to have started a business, actually a good thing. His fortune made selling data to the financial industry, Bloomberg knows where the money comes from and how to tax it. Wall Street has expressed shock at his proposals to tax financial transactions, toughen stress tests for banks and so on.

Bloomberg’s bottom line is that he left moneymaking to pursue a life of doing the really hard stuff in public service. Populist ranting can be entertaining, and Sanders is good at it. But his bottom line is having accomplished almost nothing in his 29 years as a professional politician in Washington.

Clearly, Bloomberg has strengths that Sanders couldn’t buy, even with Bloomberg’s money.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.