The Chasm

As is so often the case, the chasm between possible and actual gapes today like a wound.

A man well on his way to drinking himself to death has taken up temporary residence on the scaffolding-sheltered steps of a residential construction site in our neighborhood. The scaffolding under which he has been – like many of the more properly sheltered and well-heeled residents of the West Village – heavily day-drinking has stood for years now at the corner where, rumor has it, the former CEO of Chipotle is having three former residential buildings converted into one obscene mega-mansion. Now, with fast casual (and especially buffet-style) restaurants getting hammered by the crisis, one wonders if the ChipMcMansion will ever be completed.

Why can’t we house the unhoused in New York City?

Even in the best of times, one wonders, but now, in the midst of a pandemic – when pragmatism, if not humanitarianism, should dictate the preeminence of hygiene, and the vast majority of the City’s hotel rooms sit vacant – the question becomes a howling scream of indignation. Pre-pandemic, something like 70,000 to 80,000 New Yorkers were reported to be homeless at any given time, of whom ~4,000 slept on the street on any given night. Meanwhile, reports have consistently put the number of vacant hotel rooms in NYC since the onset of COVID-19 over 100,000.

The math is simple, but a different calculus outweighs this simple arithmetic.

Why can’t we exercise our right to vote?

The short answer: Because Andrew Cuomo said so. The slightly longer: Because powerful interests within the state and national Democratic Parties would prefer that we not. The longer still: There is an important court case scheduled for Friday that will decide whether or not the first canceled (by Cuomo’s Board of Elections), then reinstated (after a court ruling in response to a lawsuit brought by Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders) Democratic presidential primary will actually be held in New York.

You may ask why it matters, given that, after all, only one serious candidate remains on the ballot. First and foremost, it matters because now is the last time that the Democratic Party should be setting a precedent for the pandemic-based cancellation of any elections…

Further, when only coup-style machinations by the Democratic Party establishment (in concert with the corporate media) managed to deliver Biden presumptive nominee-ship, and only high-handed and deadly reckless maneuvering by the Biden campaign and the DNC forced Sanders’ to withdraw from the primary (rather than stay in and risk that Biden and the Party would continue to call for/attempt to force in-person voting), its galling that the Party’s man in Albany would then look to rob Sanders of the opportunity to amass – as is his stated intention, given that he remains on the ballot – more delegates in the lead up to the convention. With Tara Reade’s credible accusations, against Biden, of sexual assault; Biden’s uncertain health and mental faculties; and our nationally deteriorating condition of pandemic stricken-ness, I certainly don’t feel certain about what the eventual outcome of the Democratic selection process will be.

(By the way, here’s a graph that gives a clear sense of what happens when you – that is, the State of Wisconsin – hold in-person voting during a pandemic. Spoiler: About 14-days after the voting, you see a pronounced spike in cases in spite of your state-wide stay-at-home order.)

You may also ask if it’s safe or reasonable or cost-effective to hold elections during a pandemic. Addressing the last point first, it’s only as cost-effective as preserving our democracy. On the other points, thankfully, we have the United States Postal Service! For now. So again, it’s simple – just send every registered voter a ballot by mail (just like California has now committed to doing in enacting “automatic vote-by-mail for the November election”) – but superseded by Machiavellian concerns, which are more complex.

Speaking of complexity, New Zealand has “brought new coronavirus cases down to zero” and Australia has largely succeeded in suppressing the virus (in the process, employing a problematic surveillance app), but news out of China and South Korea points to just how provisional these successes are. There is no victory so long as the SARS-CoV-2 is in circulation and much of the population remains vulnerable to it. Meanwhile, the news out of the United States reads like a (sometimes darkly comical) catalogue of horrors: Cases mounting as “States Reopen Economies”; children mysteriously dying; hospitals investigating healthcare workers for calling for adequate PPE; state governments undermining attempts of tribal governments to protect against spread of the virus; prisoners dying from COVID-19; detainees hunger striking in desperate attempts not to be exposed to it; deportation (including of COVID-19-positive people) proceeding apace; and, to top it all off, a growing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the White House.

We’re facing the hardest of hard problems, and the President thinks we should drink bleach and is denying, as a matter of political expediency, the validity of even our radically understated COVID-19 fatality numbers rather than even attempt to confront the unfolding disaster. The Vice President went to the Mayo Clinic and refused, against all posted and clearly communicated regulations, to wear a mask. His explanation? He wanted to “be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.” One worries he doesn’t understand how a mask works.

All of this is old news, so I’ll share with you some new news instead: I saw a very beautiful bird outside my window this afternoon. My neighbor, a former professional flautist, was practicing his scales outside, or out the window, in one of the sunny interludes between sudden torrid bursts of downpour, and amidst the lime green young leaves of the honey locust tree, this bird – if I’m not mistaken, an oriole, with electric orange breast and black and orange back – hopped from branch to branch, pecking at I’m not sure what.

Today, I’m worried about losing what remains of our democracy and worried about the colossal trauma into which we’re sailing, Titanic, with our “leaders” – Washington-esque – defiantly wearing their masks like blindfolds – sans sight, sans sense, sans everything.

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