By The Time We Notice We’re Hungry, It May Be Too Late

“[A]s the top U.S. watermelon-producing state prepares for harvest, Reuters reports, “many of the workers needed to collect the crop are stuck in Mexico …. Without the workers crops could rot in fields throughout the country,” starting in Florida and California where major harvests begin in April and May.

As you can probably guess, the problem stems from the COVID-19 panic. The US State Department has halted routine visa applications and consulates are limiting both staff numbers and staff contact with applicants. That’s making it difficult for the quarter million migrant workers who normally pick America’s crops to get here and get to work.

Most Americans aren’t hungry. Yet.

But unless something changes, we’re going to start GETTING hungry in a couple of months.

And by then, it will be too late. Planting cycles don’t turn on a dime for our convenience and ripe crops don’t wait. They get picked when it’s their time, or they go to waste. We get the food while the gettin’s good, or we don’t get it at all.

There’s a non-trivial chance that Americans are rushing headlong into a horror we haven’t seen since the Civil War — mass starvation — or, at the very least, malnutrition on a scale we haven’t suffered since the Great Depression.

We can’t avoid that outcome with stimulus checks in our mailboxes. All the money in the world won’t buy you a cantaloupe if there aren’t any cantaloupes to buy.

We can’t hold it off with corporate bailouts, either. It’s not money Big Agriculture’s lacking for, it’s permission for its workers to come pick the crops.

If we want to keep eating, our politicians are going to have to knock off this “shutdown” nonsense and let people get back to work.

Yes, even if that means that COVID-19 remains a problem or becomes a bigger problem.

The varying probabilities of catching the disease, and the varying probabilities of dying from it, pale next to the absolute, indubitable, 100% certainty that if we do not eat, we WILL die.

Politicians can’t just shut down major parts of an economy at will, start them back up, and expect things to go well. They can’t throttle the food supply chain without consequences.

We gotta eat.

Which means we’re going to have to insist that the politicians hang their Mussolini costumes back up in the closet and magnanimously permit us to get back to our lives.

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Congress Declares Itself Non-Essential

Around the US, “essential” workers are going to work everyday and doing their jobs, COVID-19 pandemic or not. Factory workers are producing things. Truck and delivery drivers are transporting those things. Grocery store employees and food service workers are making sure food reaches our tables.

Congress, not so much.

When US Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) tried to require his fellow politicians to actually show up at the Capitol to vote on the biggest one-off welfare handout in human history, and to  record their votes for posterity, all hell broke loose.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Massie a “dangerous nuisance” for having the gall and temerity to suggest that the House get the constitutionally required quorum (216 members) together and put them on record instead of just pretending it had such a quorum and holding an undifferentiated voice vote.

US Representative Peter King (R-NY) said it was “disgraceful” and “irresponsible” of Massie to imply that King should show up for work instead of sitting at home in New York collecting his $174,000 salary, his lavish fringe benefits, and his comfortable retirement package.

President Donald Trump called Massie a “third-rate grandstander” and advocated his expulsion from the Republican Party. I mention this only to acknowledge Trump’s expertise in third-rate grandstanding, and to suggest that he’s not otherwise qualified to so much as carry Massie’s briefcase.

And so it went down on March 27:

Massie called for a recorded vote. The chair pretended to count those standing in favor of a roll call vote and announced there weren’t enough.

Upon Massie’s further objection that the House lacked a quorum, the chair spent four seconds pretending to count to 216 in a nearly empty chamber before asserting that yes, there was a quorum, and declaring the bill passed.

If any other body pulled that kind of stunt, its members would find themselves in court answering to charges of honest services fraud. But when Congress lies, even as openly and arrogantly as it did here, it usually gets away with doing so. Massie presumably lost this battle.

But there’s a larger war on over the credibility of American politicians and political institutions, and if we listen to what Congress is actually saying, it just shot itself in the foot in public.

Here’s the message Congress just sent America:

“We as individual members of Congress are far too important, and Congress itself is far too un-important, for us to be expected to do our jobs if doing our jobs entails any personal risk, or even inconvenience.”

Or, to put it a different way, “we’re far more important than Subway sandwich artists, and the House of Representatives isn’t nearly as important as a Subway  store. Our safety and comfort is paramount and the job we do isn’t important enough to do right.”

I’m not sure I agree with Capitol Hill’s (when they bother to be there) perfumed princes and princesses as to just how very special and important they are, but I think they’re onto something with the second part.

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Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking

On March 23, 14 US Senators from both major political parties asked US Attorney General William Barr and Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to “transfer non-violent offenders who are at high risk for suffering complications from COVID-19 to home confinement.”

It’s a smart idea, and one local jails and state prisons around the country are already implementing. But it raises an important question and also points to an important opportunity.

The question: If the prisoners in question pose no threat of violence, why were they sent to jail or prison in the first place?

The opportunity: The COVID-19 outbreak should mark the beginning of mass decarceration, not just a temporary exception to a dumb and damaging practice.

More than 2.3 million Americans live in cages.

The vast majority of them are not murderers, rapists, armed robbers, or kidnappers.

In fact, many of them didn’t victimize anyone at all — they didn’t pick your pocket or steal your car, they just got caught disobeying this or that arbitrary government edict (for example, laws against using or selling marijuana).

But instead of letting them pay their own rent, buy their own food, and provide for their own medical insurance — not to mention earning money to pay restitution to their victims if they have any — American politicians extort nearly $200 billion a year from American taxpayers to confine them in institutions that provide those already criminally inclined with higher educations in their chosen fields while simultaneously promoting the spread of every malady imaginable from anti-social behavior to substance abuse to, yes, infectious disease.

That was crazy before the pandemic. It’s crazier now, as even the most dim-witted among us (our politicians) are beginning to understand. And it would be bat-feces insane to go right back to it once the COVID-19 panic ends.

We already have at our disposal, and are already using, the  technology and manpower we need to do away with incarceration for all but the most violent and dangerous criminals: The electronic tracking devices already used to enforce “house arrest” and “work release” convicts, and correctional institution staff who can be transitioned into jobs as tracking monitors and/or probation and parole officers.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We’ve had the way for ages. COVID-19 has at least temporarily created the will. Let’s hold on to the lesson permanently instead of falling back into error  when this present crisis ends.

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COVID-19: What Would Rosie The Riveter Do?

Half the readers I hear from accuse me of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The other half accuse me of rabid Trump fandom. In truth, I think of US President Donald J. Trump in exactly the same way I think of most other politicians: He’s usually wrong and often dangerous. But when he’s right he’s right.

He’s right when he says that America needs to “open up” soon.

If anything, his target date of Easter is too distant.

The longer we wait to get moving again, the longer it will take to recover.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will descend into, or fall deeper into, poverty.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will die of causes other than coronavirus.

If we wait TOO long, starvation and malnutrition will be among those causes.

We don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether we like it or not.

One of the oddest assertions I’ve heard from American politicians is that the COVID-19 outbreak is “our generation’s World War 2.”

I’m far too young to remember World War 2, but I’ve listened to veterans talk about it, read its history, and love the era’s propaganda posters. Rosie the Riveter in “We Can Do it!” “Lay-Offs Cost Lives!” “Work To Win.”

I’m trying to imagine a propaganda poster for “our World War 2,” and all that comes to mind is a hand reaching out from under a bed to grab a government check.

That image isn’t nearly as inspiring, is it? Nor is the sentiment nearly as practical.

America won World War 2 by working and fighting. It isn’t going to beat COVID-19 by shutting down and cowering.

Our politicians are thoroughly enjoying their extended Mussolini cosplay holiday, but their “lockdown” orders and such are merely feeding their egos, not starving the virus. The longer we continue to put up with that authoritarian nonsense, the harder it’s going to get to reclaim our rights and put them back in their places. Once they get used to filthy serfs like you and me taking a knee when they pass by, they’re not going to want to give it up.

The more quickly we seize back control of our lives — from the virus and from the politicians — the more quickly our lives will start getting better again.

Call me a Trump fanboy if it makes you feel better, but I’m with the president on this one.

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Don’t Netflix Your Way Through Crises

One thing I find especially bothersome about the response to the COVID-2019 pandemic is the common meme telling average people to “just stay home and watch Netflix.”

What does it say about us that this is a common idea of how to respond to a major crisis? The Netflix prescription is a passive, helpless, hopeless way to experience a trying time which may last for months. It’s a meaning-starved narcotic for people who have the time and luxury to watch it. And it’s not much of a palliative for people who are losing their jobs or friends and loved ones.

Sure – let’s watch some movies if that’s a normal part of life for us. But there are about a thousand better things we can be doing.

We can be supporting our friends and families. We can be catching up with old friends online and in video calls, delivering groceries for at-risk folks, and sharing important public health advisories with our neighbors.

We can be developing ourselves and improving our own lives. We can be learning new skills and languages, reading useful books, exercising outside (away from people), painting, teaching, or selling.

We can be preparing for the shockwaves and the aftermath of this crisis. We can be planting gardens and raising chickens and buying investments and fixing things around the house and stocking up and learning first aid.

We can be supporting the response to the pandemic. We can be donating, raising funds for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, or contributing time to online crowdsourced projects to make masks and other gear.

And we can do all of these things – as we would with Netflix – from home. There aren’t enough good shows on any streaming platforms to make this time worthwhile only for consumption. Find something useful and meaningful now: you won’t regret it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Yes, the COVID-19 Panic Does Call for Drastic Measures

As an old saying goes, it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.

The world’s politicians are innovating on the fly (pun intended) by trying to combine the fall — the COVID-19 epidemic — with the sudden stop, bringing life and commerce to a halt through draconian travel restrictions, business closures, etc.

We don’t yet know what the COVID-19 death toll is going to be. In the US,  based on current numbers, it looks like we’re going to see quite a few more deaths than occurred in the 9/11 attacks, more even than from the usual seasonal flu, but not nearly as many as predicted by the “I know the word exponential! I know how to draw a hockey stick on graph paper! Quick, hide under the bed, or COVID-19 WILL GIT YEWWW!” social media crowd.

What we’ve not yet seen is anything remotely justifying the declarations of dictatorship coming from politicians at all levels of government.

Everyone from mayors to governors to the president himself is getting in on the act, claiming authority to shut down businesses the politician doesn’t consider “essential” — and at the federal level to centrally plan and manage those businesses’ operations — to clear the streets of anyone and everyone whose activities the politician hasn’t listed as “approved,” etc.

On the back end, those same politicians are trying to figure out how to cushion the economic blow of their own authoritarian stupidity with bank and corporate bailouts, individual stimulus checks, and other voodoo rituals that threaten to turn a short, mild recession into a Greater Depression.

I do agree that the situation calls for drastic measures, and I have one to offer:

I propose a 90-day total quarantine, effective immediately, on all elected or appointed government officials.

By “total,” I mean they are to be restricted to their homes without telephone or Internet access, and physically restrained if they try to leave, have a communication device smuggled in, or speak to anyone through an open window.

As compensation (and to keep ringers from smuggling out proclamations), the taxpayers should provide for grocery delivery.

Three months without politicians exploiting panic to enhance their own power would reduce both the short-term death toll and the long-term problems of economic recovery.

Alternatively, we could all just start ignoring them and their edicts and get back to living again whether they like it or not.

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