The New (Temporary) Great Depression

I lost two clients in the last two hours. It was a sizable hit. Nothing I did. I’m an easygoing professional who cracks jokes and turns around sharp and witty copy fast. But this is our present epoch. Nobody is immune. Not me, not you. They’re going to can you. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that they have positions of power — largely the ability to give you money for your hard work — and you don’t. The pandemic is now becoming a dog eat dog world on meth. If you’re living in New York, you’re only a paycheck or two away from being out on the streets. I readjusted my finances yesterday so that I would be able to last through this apocalypse for six months, assuming the worst case scenario in which I wouldn’t have any income. Because not having income is very much the reality for a good third of Americans right now.

I’m not sour about what went down today at all because I realize I’m one of the lucky ones who has this option. I’m not sour because this thing is bigger than me. Many can’t or won’t be able to survive. And I’m not talking about the virus. I’m talking about economics. I’m talking about the mass firings. I’m talking about the people who will lose their homes once the evictions and foreclosures are allowed to happen again.

Even the roti stand guy in my neighborhood who I have a long-running comedy routine with isn’t cracking jokes anymore. He told me sad stories about the Prospect Park Concourse being completely devoid of people. I went to the liquor store a few nights ago and people were bragging about the part-time work they were able to land. It was fairly easy to understand that their three day stints weren’t going to cover their rent or their bills and that they have no savings. But they had to find pride even as they are being thoroughly shafted by these evil Republican bloodworms. And that is enraging. I mean, goddammit, to not have the power to protest the streets with every fiber of our being over this. But, of course, that’s impossible right now. Not while we’re trapped in the quarantine bubble.

Because there’s also another part of you who realizes that staying calm and pro-active is the only way you can survive this. Small wonder that people who are buying and drinking copious quantities of alcohol — myself included — to help cope with the fact that our lives and our livelihoods are essentially fucked right now are trying to find solace in a form of math that still leaves them in the red. Pride cooks the books as swiftly as a Bernie Madoff scam. But, dammit, we need it. Even when it is a lie.

This is the conversation we aren’t having right now. I can’t stop thinking about the people who are suffering. The ones who will fall into terrible mental illness spirals that they can’t easily escape from. The ones who may commit suicide. Will there be more deaths from suicide than from Coronavirus? I have a feeling there will be. I had to talk at least one friend off the ledge because she doesn’t know how she’ll pay rent next month. And I sent her money, knowing it wasn’t enough and knowing it was more than I should have given. But what the hell else was I supposed to do?

I went for a stroll this afternoon, maintaining my social distance. Because people tend to enjoy my affable presence, they often tell me things. And what they’re not telling you right now on the evening news is that people who have no money are stealing a lot of food from the stores. What they’re not telling you is that nearly everyone who works in retail is terrified. Infection. Some justifiably desperate person freaking out.

Our government isn’t going to provide for us. That much is clear. There isn’t going to be work for a lot of us until we’re allowed back in the bars and the restaurants again. You can’t hope your way into survival. We are enslaved to cruel and self-serving beasts who only care about the rich and the corporations and saving their own skin. This could radicalize the American public in the long run. And while most of us will find ways to survive, I can’t stop thinking about the many we’re leaving behind and how we can’t even hug them right now.

So if we have no way to fight this right now, let’s at least stick together in the ways that we can. Let’s talk with each other. Let’s crack jokes. Let’s write everything down. We need to share all of our experiences with total candor right now so that we can completely flip the system once the time has come to leave our homes and there’s time to storm the streets and humiliate these fuckfaces with the same unprecedented and unpardonable way they wish to decimate us. We must vote these bastards out of office with wide margins. We must, once it is our time again, strike without pity. Because they don’t give a fuck about us. They’ve got us right now. But it’s only temporary. They won’t have us forever. The pandemic will pass. Humanity will thrive again. And they’re going to be very sorry they left us in the lurch like this.

If you’re one of the solipsistic bastards who isn’t thinking beyond himself, rest assured that we will remember you. And we will make your lives difficult. You may have fucked us for the next six months. But we will tell the stories of how you treated us when you had the upper hand and you had the opportunity to help. And these stories will endure for years. It is you who will be hurt in the long run, not us. We will remember how you treated us when we had nothing. You may think you have something right now, but it’s not going to last. The world’s going to correct itself and it’s going to take out your smugness and your selfishness along the way. And we’ll be the ones popping open the champagne.

But let’s not forget the ones who do us solids. The ones who looked out for us as we looked out for them. They are the good people. They are the ones on our side. They are the ones who are fighting for the common good.

In the forthcoming weeks, we will really learn who are true friends are. So why not keep a ledger?

The Temperature Stand: A Way to Contain the Coronavirus

You can’t find a thermometer anywhere. It took me three days to get two thermometers and I’m usually very resourceful. I mean, if I can’t find one fast, nobody can. Pharmacies and the stores are all cleaned out. If you try ordering a thermometer from Amazon, you’ll end up waiting a month for it to be delivered. And right now, as the Coronavirus escalates in the States, we really need a way to be able to detect it as early as possible. The early signs involve fever. And with COVID testing proving to be outside the grasp of anybody other than the affluent, the only real way for us to know if any of us may have it is to check our temperature. But if we don’t have the tools, then how can we know?

Enter the temperature stand, an idea inspired by Lucy’s lemonade stand in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. Schultz had the right conceptual idea. What if a lemonade stand, which serves the community, were altered for medical purposes? What if we set up a network of temperature stands around the nation? Free temperature tests. No questions asked. Along with a few jokes and friendly banter just to make people feel safer and happier. The temple thermometer I have takes just three seconds to register that my body is running normally at 98.4. What if we enlisted volunteers to take the temperature of everyone in the neighborhood?

I really want to set up a temperature stand. I left the house today to talk with a pharmacy in my neighborhood about setting one up in front of their store. The pharmacy advised against it. So did a local cop. Why? Because there are now stringent edicts in place, along with a heavy police presence (many of the cops in my hood are wearing facemasks). So I can’t do this — even though I very much want to help people in my neighborhood. I’ve already started taking people’s temperature on the sly, dabbing my thermometer probe with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol immediately after. A guy at the bodega who comes into contact with perhaps a hundred people each day, grateful to know that he didn’t have a fever, offered me a free six pack of beer for doing him a solid. I politely declined. That’s not the way a temperature stand should work. Taking people’s temperature really should be free and ubiquitous. Think of this as a kind of healthcare volunteer squad, united by a common code rather than a common cold. It also feels incredibly strange to be an outlaw in the interest of public health. But, hey, if heading out into the city with a digital thermometer and a balacava and a secret name in the dead of night is the only way for me to help people, I’ll do it.

I’d set up a temperature stand it in a heartbeat, but I now know that I would be immediately shut down. Honestly, temperature stands make total sense. We need to be able to find and quarantine anyone who has a fever so that they don’t spread the virus.

I’m writing this quick dispatch to get this idea out there. To see if we can make something like this instantly happen.

Expert epidemiologists have informed us that the reported number of Coronavirus cases represents only a fraction of the total — perhaps as little as 13% of all cases. So it’s vital for us to have ways to collect data.

But if we have a way to take people’s temperatures, then we would stand a stronger chance of cutting down the number of cases. We’ll also have a way of flattening the curve while bringing our communities together.

So who’s with me? If we can’t keep a temperature stand in regular operation, then let us become masked avengers of the night — with a digital thermometer becoming the most valuable tool on our Batman utility belt!

I can tell you this much. I’m not leaving the house again without my thermometer. Not for me, but for other people. “I have a thermometer. Would you like me to take your temperature?” will now be added to my usual “Hello, how are you doing?” as long as we’re dealing with this pandemic. If you run into me, I’m more than happy to take your temperature.

Coronavirus Report from Brooklyn

The panic hasn’t quite kicked in, but there is a muted and funereal despair in Brooklyn. You can now more easily spot someone who is under the age of 35 from a distance. They jaunt down the streets with the carefree pep of kids who believe they are immune to COVID. But for the rest of us, there is a slowness, a cautiousness, sometimes a sadness, in the gait. For every stranger could be a carrier. I was received with more looks of suspicion than the norm, with people not only staying physically away from me, but saying nothing in response to my cheery hellos. But for people in the neighborhood that I knew in some capacity, including a guy who works the roti stand who I have a long-running “we’re in a steamy relationship” gag with, there were jokes and friendliness and hellos. The people you know are the ones you can count on. But strangers are increasingly stranger.

The reason I was out was not because I wanted to be, but because, like many residents of Brooklyn, I do not have a washing machine in my building. And I am a big believer in changing your underwear on a daily basis. It took me two days before I worked up the nerve to bundle my dirty clothes. I was out for about 90 minutes, longer than I had been out in the last four days combined. I felt that staying inside the laundromat was akin to playing a respiratory version of Russian roulette. So I decided to go for a wander, keeping my social distance.

Some of the restaurants were shuttered. The ones that remained open — takeout only by city edict — had removed all of their chairs. I observed a long strip of yellow police tape cordoning off booths at a fast food franchise. None of them appeared to be doing any business. And this was lunch hour. But there were kids still working behind the counter. I asked a guy on the register, whose name and restaurant I will not divulge in order to protect him, how he felt about working in these risky conditions. He told me that his boss would fire him if he didn’t work his scheduled shifts and that, on top of this, he was getting some overtime. He needed the money and, like many Americans, didn’t have any savings.

The thing that kept surprising me was how quickly social distancing had turned into a habit of not saying a word to a stranger, almost as if you could catch the Coronavirus by speaking a few words. When I went out into the world to stock up on provisions a few days ago, I encountered an old woman with a sad look, stumbling forward on her walker. I stayed about eight feet away, but I said, “Be careful. And you have a very happy day!” She smiled and told me that I was the first person she had spoken with in three days and she thanked me profusely. I wanted so badly to give her a hug and to let her know that she was not alone. But of course, I couldn’t. Our world is already in the casually cruel practice of letting the old die on their own. The increased and justifiable fear of passing along the virus to someone over the age of 60 has only hardened this habit of isolating ourselves from the truth of our inevitable fate.

The man who ran the laundromat had reduced his hours and placed many signs warning people about the virus. He wore a facemask. I noticed that his family wasn’t there, as they often were. It was just him, doing his best to keep his small business running. When I took out my laundry, I was sized up by a few nervous people who also didn’t want to sit there. Aggressive glares. Don’t come near me. It was quieter than usual, as most of the city now is, with only the television blaring warbling news from the wall. But it was the beginning of a new way of life. Don’t trust strangers. You don’t know what they have. The devil you know is better than the angel you don’t. In this new and unprecedented time of staying inside and self-quarantine, how many people will suffer not from a deadly flu but from loneliness?

Facebook Censorship: “Violating Community Standards”

I have received multiple reports tonight of Facebook stifling the rights of regular citizens to report on developments related to the Coronavirus, claiming that any user who shares helpful and objectively inoffensive information is somehow “violating community standards.”

This is, in short, an obscene violation of the First Amendment — especially because the “offensive” content being shared is often reasonable. Here are some examples of how Facebook is going out of its way to prevent people from having useful discussions:

I’m personally offended by this. As a dedicated rabble-rouser who often goes out of his way to write about the ineffable and the offensive, I have somehow not been hit by this weirdass algorithm — even though I went well out of my way to publicly declare on Facebook, “Mark Zuckerberg should have his virgin tight rectum violated by a flock of lambs jacked up on Viagra. Mark Zuckerberg will never know how to find and stimulate the clitoris – even with his many billions of dollars.”

Where the hell is my violation of community standards, Mark? I feel that I’ve been left out of your censorship party!

But in all seriousness, this draconian assault on basic information sharing is a calumny against free expression and the abundant need to be honest about the place we’re now heading in. If Zuckerberg has decided to withhold information — especially information that was put together by bona-fide journalists who perform their work with objective standards — then this is, in fact, disastrous to discourse and catastrophic to understanding how the terrible flu is spreading. At the present time, it is essential for us to have the floodgates open. And since 2.5 billion people are now on Facebook trying to make sense of a terrible pandemic, then it seems condign to let them vent in any way they need to.

This patently illustrates that Facebook is very much committed to muzzling free speech and destroying our right to disseminate genuinely useful information that will help people survive rather than die. And right now, it is far more important to have people delineating what they are experiencing rather than having Facebook capitulate to the business-as-usual approach to contemporary life. This is not a time for dishonesty. It is a time for truth.

When the world returns to normal, I hope that people will remember how Zuckerberg’s smug crew gleefully silenced us when we needed to talk. I hope that everyone will remember that Facebook went out of its way to be a dance partner with fascism and to pretend that a pandemic that could kill as many as 1.7 million Americans wasn’t just some fly-by-night trend.

We Need A Guaranteed Income for All Americans During the Pandemic

Nearly every working-class American is one or two paychecks from being out on the streets. And the shuttering of bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues in Los Angeles and New York City — all necessary, but all committed with cruel and thoughtless consideration for the American worker — is going to take a significant and life-altering hit on the vast majority of Americans who aren’t cushioned by savings or a 401k plan that they can cash out to survive during this unprecedented time. According to data, 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. And 45% of those Americans have no savings at all. It is unconscionable and morally unacceptable to leave these Americans without a financial safeguard. Yes, evictions are frozen in New York City. But there isn’t a rent freeze. And when the housing courts reopen, the restaurant workers — who are undoubtedly struggling to find last-minute funds to make rent in the next two weeks — will be left vulnerable to greedy landlords who have been looking for an opportunity to evict their tenants, do a retrofit, raise the rent, and make more money.

Moreover, with businesses circling the wagons right now just to survive, anyone unemployed right now is also left in the lurch. The emergency Coronavirus bill now being worked out by Congress allows for sick leave, but leaves about 59 million Americans uncovered. If you work for a business with more than 500 employees — say a restaurant franchise like McDonald’s — or the government, you’re not going to qualify for paid leave. Some companies, such as Target and Walmart, have stated that they would allow for two weeks of sick leave should any employee contract COVID-19. But this still doesn’t account for the likelihood that, as quarantine measures continue and more venues and establishments close down, the employees who work for these places will not have an alternative income.

The only mechanism that would alleviate this unfair burden upon the unemployed, the working poor, and the middle class would be a guaranteed income granted to all Americans during the next two months. This must be accompanied by a rent freeze, a freeze on credit card interest and late fees, and numerous other pieces of financial legislation to rectify a situation that we could not foresee happening.

This isn’t about radicalism. It’s about democratic humanism. It’s about an empathy for all that should never be a partisan issue.

Because this isn’t just about workers meeting their basic needs. For the estimated 30 million Americans who are presently uninsured — and for the working class population using a healthplan with a high deductible — are going to face significant costs just to get checked out for the Coronavirus — such as the teacher hit with a $10,000 emergency room bill who got checked out after she returned from Italy. (The irony is that the teacher merely visited the ER and didn’t get tested.)

It’s one thing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to end the seven day waiting period on unemployment. But these benefits must be issued at an amount that is realistic to survive on. Is it fair for the bartenders and waiters now out of work to have to use their two weeks of paid sick leave to survive what may be two months of quarantine? It is not. It is, in fact, deeply inhumane.

Unless our legislators relish the destruction of working-class lives — and there is good reason to believe that Republicans and Democrats alike simply do not care — we must issue a guaranteed income at the federal level during the next two months that kicks in immediately. Creating such a financial cushion for everyone will alleviate stress and encourage people to self-quarantine. For how many of these workers are now looking for alternative income streams that are likely unsafe for them and unsafe for the population?

The Way We Live Now

@grayareapod

I just bought 19 cans of soup. Getting ready for the ##apocalypse. ##Coronavirus ##soup ##stockpile ##pandemic ##quarantine ##food

โ™ฌ (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult

This morning, I bought nineteen cans of soup just to be on the safe side. Tomorrow, I will purchase a great deal more, along with numerous rolls of toilet paper, which is now in high demand. Regular people are now snapping at each other in once civilized venues. Personally, I’d rather come out of this with a modest sense of dignity. But that requires a great deal of prep. I’m seeing supermarket shelves in my neighborhood turn into barren cavities of emptiness. As for the soup, I’m watching the grocery circulars like a hawk for good deals. I’ve never purchased this much soup at one time in my life. But strange times require strange measures. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching far too many apocalyptic movies, it’s this: you can’t trust a government to provide for the people. Especially when you have a sociopathic nincompoop out of his depth running things from the top. Weeks will pass. And while the rest of you may be contemplating cannibalism or eating a dead mouse for lunch, I’ll be living it large with Creamy Chicken Noodle. I make it a personal habit to not eat human flesh. And I’m certainly not going to let any damned virus disrupt my culinary sensibilities.

That my life — and yours — could become so easily uprooted is a testament to just how swiftly the Coronavirus has altered the nature of regular life. Sure, you can still ride the subway. But who wants to be on a crowded car? Last night, I decided to grab a beer at a watering hole and wait it out rather than risk some unwanted tango with respiratory particulates. I had touched a subway pole while standing. And this seemed especially foolhardy. So I hit the bar’s bathroom and washed my hands while reciting thirty lines from Hamlet.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson contracted the Coronavirus, with their shirtless son Chet insisting, “They’re not tripping.” And that offensive news pretty much kickstarted events as we now live them. Sports organizations have suspended seasons. Broadway has gone dark. Even Disneyland is now closed. Depending on where you live, there are bans on social gatherings with more than 250 or 500 people. The stock market had its worst Dow Jones drop in history. Personally I lost $500. And I’m usually a somewhat savvy investor.

All this went down just in the last 24 hours. If you’re not sitting on a 401k that you can cash out or some savings that will crest you along in the next few months, your life is pretty much fucked if you don’t have a traditional nine-to-five job. And that’s the conversation nobody wants to have right now. You can’t really meet people. but you can have hilarious phone conversations. You can’t perform or be out in public. You can’t date. If you’re a business that relies on social interaction to survive, then your quotidian way of getting by has been heinously compromised. This is, in short, a disaster.

On the other hand, maybe we needed this. We operate in a world in which life flits by at a pace that people could not imagine a century ago. And maybe a pause from this regular onslaught might cause us to reflect on what the presently ignoble corporate covenant with the American worker truly is. Why do we share so much? Why must we be constantly on call to show how essential we are? Looking at this from the other end of the telescope, we do know that the stock market was eventually going to take a snooze with the bears. And when it recovers in about six months, it won’t be nearly as bad as it could have been, had it collapsed in “more natural” conditions. More importantly, the Coronavirus will undoubtedly expose just how Third World America is in relation to healthcare. The terrible Faustian bargain of working for the Man just so you and your family can get a shitty deductible. Well, that’s pure evil. By every objective standard. Here in America, we’re going to see a terrible uptick in Coronavirus cases in the next few weeks. We’re going to see people die. Just as they did in Italy, which is four weeks ahead of us and better equipped for this pandemic than we are. But Americans will die nonetheless. And this is something that never needed to happen. And it would not have happened, had we been committed to universal healthcare and gentle honesty.

The way we live now needs to be one of increasing isolation if we want to stand any chance of stopping this — a slam dunk for introverts, but a tough sell for the rest of us. We have been living on borrowed time for a few decades. And it took a crazy virus to reveal the terrible truth of how we don’t look out for each other. That it should take a pandemic hitting at the human race out of the blue to reveal our skewered priorities says much, I think, about how much harder we need to give a damn about other people and enact policies that will allow them to thrive. For thrive we must. Against the Coronavirus. Against all the forces that vitiate our possibilities. Against anything that gets in the way of people living their best possible lives.

We’re All Going to Die: A Special Guest Column

[Reluctant Habits recently reached out to Horace Flipperbottom, a former Department of the Interior official and author of the memoir, Twelve Years in a Bunker: How I Had Fun While Living as a Recluse, to get some thoughts about what to expect about the Coronavirus strain now sweeping the world.]

Some may view the Department of the Interior as the government’s answer to an unwanted cable channel that is part of a promising television bundle. Sure, you’re never going to watch our shows or even know the type of television we produce. But you can’t deny the fact that we are here. Anyway, I served for sixteen years in the Department of the Interior. Sure, nobody noticed me when I rolled in late to work and, on Fridays, my coworkers never asked what type of wild weekend plans were ahead of me. But I did serve as a government official nonetheless. And this has to count for something! So when The Atlantic came calling, asking me to express some thoughts alongside my DHS colleague Juliette Kayyem, I was more than happy to tell them to stick their invite where the sun don’t shine and take up Mr. Champion’s more enticing offer to speak my mind here. (Mr. Champion, knowing of my great passion for mini golf, was kind enough to offer me a $25 Scandia Fun Center voucher for my thoughts, even though I cannot use it during these tough antisocial times.) Sure, they laughed at me not long after the Y2K virus hit and I holed up for a dozen years in a bunker with thousands of cans. But, dammit, I’m alive! And because I am alive, this makes me very well qualified to speak about what to expect with the disease known as COVID-19. Because staying alive when you know there’s a minor chance that a lot of people could die sooner rather than later is, as my job recruiter has informed me, a skill that you want to highlight on your resume.

I’ve been urging people, in as calm a tone as I can muster, to listen to the experts, advising people about the benefits of never talking to another soul for twelve years. Advice like mine is meant to be empowering, but now I fear it may also be misleading. Because avoiding people just isn’t going to cut it. You need to view anyone other than yourself as a potential COVID-19 carrier. Other human beings are your enemy. If America believes that life is going to continue as normal, they may be wrong. They could also be right. But when you look at any probability figure, the important thing to remember in this grand game is that your only guarantee of living during a pandemic is to exist with the odds stacked in your favor. And if that means living a joyless life without people and firmly committed to paranoia, so be it. The facts are these: You could catch the Coronavirus from anyone. You should probably be sitting on a gigantic stockpile of toilet paper and alcoholic hand sanitizer, even if you have to rob a Costco warehouse and take out a few people during the heist. You should learn how to fire guns in the event that someone catches onto the fact that you have more toilet paper and hand sanitizer than anybody else. It’s a simple Darwinian formula. Survival of the fittest. Those who know how to keep a fresh roll of soft Charmin near the bunker toilet for twelve years are going to come out of this just fine. Plus, you’ll be able to touch your face without feeling self-conscious.

Disruptions are almost certain to multiply in the weeks to come. You will have more reason to reconsider some stranger on the subway scratching his ass as a diabolical threat to your health. They’re canceling conferences and gatherings not out of panic, but because, even if we didn’t have the Coronavirus to contend with, the human race was long overdue to test out a protracted period of not socializing with each other, perhaps bonding over endearing videos uploaded to YouTube featuring cats attempting to live out their luxurious lives while wearing face masks.

Aggressive steps are essential to protecting the public from a virus that could be deadly or that could be a temporary footnote in our culture, perhaps momentarily popular like Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” or La Roux’s “Bulletproof.” Yes, people will still perform these one hit wonders at karaoke years later and wonder what all the fuss was all about. But for those of us in know, we will be able to say to the COVID-19 virus, “You may have been temporary and inexplicably popular, thanks in part to the willingness of media to cover you in ways that caused these songs to infect the minds of most people who were surfing the Internet while bored at work. But we took you seriously when you endured! And we will never forget you!”

I live in suburban Massachusetts. When I emerged from the bunker, I built a frighteningly enormous home with aggressive air purifiers, one protected by towering walls filigreed with painful barbed wire. I vote by absentee ballot and my vote is often Republican. I don’t leave my home. I don’t take any chances. I stopped taking chances when I realized that leaving my fortified compound involved minute but nevertheless undeniable risk. I am insulated by vast wealth. My neighbors are white and male and libertarian. Many of them have gone through divorces, but they still live lonely yet meaningful lives. My neighbors and I communicate by telegraph. We’re doing what we can to keep Morse code alive. My neighbors and I will never again set foot in the real world. We’ve been waiting for something like the Coronavirus to happen for a long time. Some may say that being part of a rich and sheltered elite is a bad place to be as you’re speculating about what may happen to the American people. But the way I see it, you have two choices. You can leave the house and risk the possibility that you can die. Or you can die on your own antiseptic terms.

The fact remains that we’re all going to die. It’s just a question of whether or not we want to risk the low probability of dropping dead in the real world or kicking the bucket on our own terms. As I write this, twenty-two people have died in the United States from COVID-19. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informs us that 102 people die from auto accidents each day. A death is a death is a death — as I believe the poet Gertrude Stein once wrote. I will never drive a car. I will never leave my home. I will live by taking no risks. Please join me in my noble quest.

The Super Tuesday Hangover

I’m going to be avoiding political news for the rest of the week. I’m doing this for my own sanity. I have an audio drama to finish editing and freelancing jobs to carry on with and lovely actors to record some insert scenes with. And frankly, like many of you who were disappointed in last night’s results, I need to devote my time and energy to summon hope and positivism and joy after the sorrow and sleeplessness caused by Super Tuesday. (I finally did get some sleep. But it wasn’t easy. And I know I wasn’t alone. I was texting with three friends at 4 AM, all of us up, all of us worried, all of us advocating for different candidates, all of us seeing the shocking reality ahead of us. What serious political wonk looking at the long game implications wasn’t up at an ungodly hour contemplating the horrific consequences of four more years of Cheeto?)

The Democratic Establishment, a cowardly entity that prioritized a formula that didn’t work in 2016 and that went all in on a doddering Wonder Bread spokesman who cannot get names, dates, or places right and who is less inspiring than Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and George McGovern combined, decided that Joe Biden would be the man to defeat Trump and coordinated accordingly in Dallas on Monday night. Even the best polls inform us that Biden can barely muster little more than 50% against the worst President that this nation has ever had the misfortune to endure.

I will vote for Biden if he is the frontrunner. But he won’t get a dime from me. I won’t campaign for him. I have no enthusiasm for this man whatsoever. I may as well be voting for a potted plant that can occasionally form coherent sentences while it is being watered. Honestly, someone needs to find Corn Pop and get his side of the story. I’m guessing Biden wasn’t nearly as tough as he thought he was.

Sure, we have to vote for him in November if it comes to that. We have little choice. But Joe Biden is not a man for the people. He is not a unity candidate. He is meaner than Bernie and more of a bully. Biden’s needless attacks and insults on voters — such as berating the two vets who bravely confronted his pro-war record in Oakland, calling an Iowa voter “a damn liar,” and telling another voter questioning his policy that he was fat — are not the stuff of a President who must consider the viewpoints of others and remain coolheaded and respectful when facing justified criticism. Frankly, Biden’s conduct here is far more Trumpian than any comparisons that have been applied to Bernie.

And poor Elizabeth Warren. She couldn’t even carry her own state. She refused to see the writing on the wall and stayed in the race too long. And now Warren and Sanders supporters are at each other’s throats on social media. Fractiousness and divisiveness. The stuff we don’t need right now. The best thing that Warren can do — if she truly believes in progressive policy — is to drop out of the race and persuade her followers to vote for Bernie. That’s the only way we’ll get a progressive President at this point. But it’s not likely. It looks like we’re all going to be holding the bag for a gaffe machine.

November will be the equivalent of attending a mandatory corporate meeting and falling asleep and getting reprimanded for not paying attention to the floundering and boring old man, devoid of innovation and originality and true awareness, spearheading the PowerPoint shitshow that expresses little more than vanilla platitudes and the status quo and a remarkably uninspiring litany of mainstream awfulness. I will vote — like many, without a shred of passion or conviction, holding my nose the entire way, much like someone disposing of a rat caught in a glue trap, feeling the sense that I am not changing a damn thing and knowing that Biden is as inspiring as accidentally walking into a giant heap of moldy white bread during a morning stroll — and I will probably go home right after my vote and drink many shots of whiskey, contemplating how the DNC cowered and caved when they could have created hope and dreams and inspiration and built upon Bernie’s coalition and given more than a few fucks about universal healthcare and a world in which people didn’t have to go bankrupt to stay healthy. Amy, Beto, Pete — all easily purchased pawns. When Trump wins again in November, they will have to live with this. I’m sure they’ll sleep quite well. After all, they had to be promised something. The worst thing about all this is that all of America will fall victims to authoritarianism and abject cruelty and a nation in which income inequality and exploiting the poor and the middle class is ever more the status quo. Good hard-working American people who clearly don’t deserve to be sacrificed to the corporate gods worshipped by neoliberal centrist cowards — this will be the new normal. And it will take at least a decade to recover from this madness. That’s the best case scenario.

Yes, it’s vital to accept realism. But we cannot lose hope despite these nightmarish truths. It fills me with sadness to see a remarkable progressive movement manipulated and short-changed so expertly by an Establishment instilling fear in swing voters who were, only days before yesterday, completely in the tank for Bernie. Perhaps we were fools in believing that progressive momentum would continue unabated. Still, it was the best kind of foolishness: the one that involved taking care of others, standing for something bigger than ourselves, believing that people were worthy of human rights and dignity, feeling empathy and passion and conviction, and placing pure energy in a beautiful dream that the Democrats could once again return to their roots and alter the national landscape and improve wellbeing much as they had with the New Deal and the Great Society. Still, it’s equally important to not have your hopes and spirits and idealism and ambitions paralyzed by the truth. And who wants to listen to hopelessness? I certainly don’t want to be guided by it.

We will rise again. We will fight again. Bernie is still a long shot. But do we want to tell our grandchildren that we didn’t go the distance? It may take years, but we have no other choice. For now, let us regroup and be gentle and be true and be bold and crack jokes so that we can find the faith again. That is what gets people eventually on the right side. That is the true path to unity.

My Evening with James Lipton

I had just moved to New York City and I was then a punkish and somewhat obnoxious independent podcaster who did ridiculously comprehensive and quirky interviews with authors. I had, like many other film and book geeks, been a devout watcher of Inside the Actors Studio. You didn’t know whether or not Lipton was serious or playing an absurdist role — especially with the Proust questionnaire. But you did have the sense that you were seeing someone who was orchestrating a somewhat important conversation, even if the dignified atmosphere didn’t always feel entirely earned.

Anyway, I learned that James Lipton had a book called Inside Inside and, purely because I had nothing to lose and my approach has always been to ask other people to be involved with my silly projects and see if they want to have fun (a surprising number of people are game), I sent an interview request to the publisher.

Amazingly, Lipton’s people said that he would be very keen to talk with me and that I’d get one hour with him.

I couldn’t believe it. I called some of my old buddies in California.

“Dude, James Lipton himself is going to be on The Bat Segundo Show!”

“No way!”

“That’s awesome!”

Sure, Lipton wasn’t the hugest name. He was some guy on the Bravo network. But he was known for being thoughtful — perhaps too thoughtful — towards the big names. He even had the decency to appreciate Will Ferrell’s impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live. And I suppose that free-wheeling, vaguely classy attitude was what made him someone who you couldn’t discount, even if you found him a little too serious at times. Inside the Actors Studio‘s atmosphere was generous with its time and it allowed you — to cite one of many examples — to see Robin Williams’s creative mind at work after taking a scarf from the audience and spending the next few minutes improvising with it. Lipton was often ridiculed for these efforts. But nobody, not even me, knew how much of a gent he was. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I set up the interview in a restaurant. Lipton arrived, wearing vast swaths of makeup (he had just come off a television interview), and seemed a little uncomfortable with my microphone setup on the table. I started with some of my goofy questions. This was what I usually did to break the ice before I went into the serious stuff. But Lipton looked lost, caught in some internal sea of melancholy. I wondered if I had somehow said something to piss off James Lipton. This has been known to happen. I do have a tendency to shoot off my mouth, largely unknowingly. I ended up stopping the mic and asking, “Hey, man, are you okay?” He said he wasn’t feeling well and that he wanted to reschedule. He told me that I was a thoughtful young man and he offered deep apologies. I was baffled. Then he left the table and seemed to be deeply ashamed.

I sat there, bewildered, packing up my gear. There was little else I could do. Then I received a call from the publicist. The publicist told me — and the two of us both seemed to be worried about Lipton — that Lipton had received a brutal review of his book in a major newspaper that morning and that he felt embarrassed, leaving me like that. Could Lipton make it up to me? Could I meet Lipton that evening at his Upper East Side townhouse? I was stunned. Lipton really wanted to do the interview with me and do me a solid. “Yes,” I said calmly and professionally. I then quickly called my friends and said, “Holy shit! I’m meeting Lipton at his house! Should I dress up?”

I did dress up a little bit. And I arrived on time. I met Lipton’s wife, Kedekai, and I was firmly in Lipton Land. I was offered good scotch, which I politely declined. Kedekai came out with a large dish of snacks. And Lipton — still wearing television makeup — emerged and again offered profuse apologies for not being able to go through with the interview that afternoon. He showed me around his house. There was a room in which every wall was festooned with framed letters and photos of Lipton with his arm around big shot actors. “This collection is a little embarrassing,” said Lipton, who I suspected had said the same thing to everyone. But I actually thought his collection was somewhat endearing. Basically, Lipton was a huge geeky fan of actors. But for a man of Lipton’s generation, this was something you didn’t announce.

What impressed me more than this was how much of a gentleman Lipton had been. I was just some silly online guy who did interviews and here Lipton and his wife were treating me like royalty, lavishing me with such incredibly generous hospitality that I wondered if they had somehow mixed me up with someone else.

Lipton told me that I was someone who was different from the usual media people he talked with. Yes, I had read his 512 page memoir in full before talking with the man. I did this with every guest on my show. But this seemed to astonish Lipton. He clearly wasn’t used to this or anyone doing this kind of intense research. I got the sense that Lipton was a man who was secretly very shy and introverted and who really wanted to be taken seriously by people, but who usually wasn’t. I was apparently that rara avis interview where Lipton would be able to be Liptona at length.

We started rolling tape. You can listen to the interview here. And the two of us had a thoughtful, sometimes very funny, and gently revealing conversation of just how Lipton lived and operated in the way that he did. By simply allowing James Lipton to be himself, and being genuinely interested in him (as I was with all the people I interviewed), I was able to get an incredibly fascinating portrait of the man. Maybe Lipton needed the Lipton approach done with him. I don’t know. But when we finished the conversation, Lipton thanked me profusely and said that it was the best interview he had ever received. He asked for my mailing address. I gave it to him and, for many years, I received a Christmas card annually like clockwork.

I think what people failed to understand about Lipton is that he both liked to please people but he did this because he wanted to be known and loved and respected. But he wasn’t the kind of man who wanted to advertise this need. Because the Inside the Actors Studio persona was one of gravitas and seriousness. Lipton laughed very loud at my jokes in the comfort of his home and when the mic wasn’t on, but he grew very serious when he knew we were recording.

What I do know is that, for about two hours of my life, I was able to give Lipton some unconditional love and respect. Perhaps because I wasn’t a journalistic vulture. I was more of a guy who greatly enjoyed talking with people and accepting them on their own terms. But I had learned some of these moves by watching Inside the Actors Studio.

Jack Welch is Dead: Goodbye and Good Riddance

Jack Welch, a scurrilous American disease who was frequently misidentified as a human being, finally bit the bucket on Sunday. There are many business tycoons who will lionize this unapologetic ratfuck, but I, for one, am very glad that this unpardonable snollygoster, this vile enemy of the American worker, is dead. For Welch was an innovative corporate sociopath who prioritized profits over human life. He was known as “Neutron Jack” for a reason. It wasn’t just that he had the destructive force of a neutron bomb because of the callous way in which he destroyed the livelihoods of hard-working Americans for maximum gain. His very soulless demeanor resembled a weapon of mass destruction. If Fat Man and Little Boy could talk and carry on a board meeting, Jack Welch was the living embodiment of this murderous Faustian bargain. Jack tried to disguise his unrelenting evils with a phony smile and a bullshit avuncularism that was appealing to other white males who hoped to adopt and emulate his ruthless approach for their own ends. But make no mistake: for all of his candor, this scumbag was incapable of compassion and, as such, he deserves no respect.

Welch’s fawning and uncritical acolytes claimed that everything he touched turned to gold. But at what cost? Welch was one of the first CEOs to break the covenant between a profitable company and the American worker. He believed in grouping workers into clusters — the so-called “vitality curve” — and not giving those who didn’t fall within the top 20% a chance, paying little heed or heart to human factors in a worker’s life that might temporarily alter their performance. Under his tenure at GE, he reduced 411,000 employees in 1980 to 299,000 employees in 1985. The GE stock kept shooting up during that time, rising to two and a half times the value. There was more than enough wiggle room to keep workers employed. But not for Jack. He sold off businesses and laid off workers and Forbes named him “Manager of the Century.”

But what was the end result of decimating GE like this? A swift rise followed by a sputtering fall. Because you can’t sustain this kind of growth forever. Under Welch’s handpicked successor, Jeff Immelt, it became very easy for GE Capital to become more cartoonish and thus flounder. And that is because Welch set the template for profit at any cost. It lines your pockets for a number of years, but it never lasts. And if that’s the case, are the many hundred thousand workers truly worth the sacrifice?

Jack Welch never gave a damn about the American worker or preserving job security. He was a dirty slithering hagfish who only existed to pursue mad and Machiavellian ends. In seven years, Welch not only reduced the GE workforce, but he reduced its unionized share. Unionized employees fell from 70% to 35% of the total workforce. This left them without the leverage to negotiate and they became targets under the vicious profit-motivated evil of Jack Welch.

There’s simply no way that anyone with a moral conscience can revere this guy. If you hold Jack Welch in any kind of esteem, then I don’t know if I could ever invite you to dinner. Before Jack Welch came along, there was a line in the sand in which it was understood that workers shared the profits and benefits of a company’s success. But Welch changed all that and inspired other lunatics to adopt similarly heartless policies that are now the norm. Welch only innovated in the way that he inflicted barbarism against this covenant with blue-collar Americans. And for that, his demise requires me to pop open a bottle of champagne and pledge a renewed commitment to standing up for the health, security, and wellbeing of the American worker as Jack Welch rots in hell.

The End of Buttigieg is the Rise of Bernie

Pete Buttigieg left the presidential race because he didn’t want to be humiliated on Super Tuesday. He had been roundly thrashed last week by brave workers risking their livelihood after his hollow platitudes to those fighting for fifteen dollars an hour didn’t land and he was received by unremitting ridicule. Moreover, he didn’t have the money to win. He had $6.6 million at the beginning of February, just a half million less than Biden did. And then South Carolina happened. Tom Steyer, who took the state’s motto “While I Breath I Hope” quite literally by going all in, had bested Buttigieg by three percentage points. Then Steyer dropped out. And the polls showed Buttigieg not doing all that well. Behind the unpopular Bloomberg in Utah. Just 8% in a February 19th Washington Post/ABC News poll. Barely 10% in a CBS News/YouGov poll released on February 23rd. He had canceled his pivotal Florida trip, claiming a cold, much like Frank Sinatra. But he didn’t have Sinatra’s popularity or his power. He didn’t have young voters. He didn’t have African-Americans. He couldn’t win, even though he had declared victory in Iowa before the results were in and carried himself in the final weeks of his campaign much like Little Lord Fauntleroy walking the streets of New York City with an aristocratic air.

But now he’s out. And what this means is that the Democratic race has come down to Bernie Sanders vs. Joe Biden. This, however, is an election in which Sanders has the clear advantage, not Biden. Conventional wisdom might suggest that voters cleaving to Buttigieg would put their faith in a dependable mainstream moderate with brand name recognition like Biden. But the donations and the polling figures paint a different picture. Sanders raised $46.5 million in February alone, easily dwarfing the Biden war chest. A Morning Consult poll released on February 27, 2020 shows Bernie ahead as a second choice among Buttigieg voters by 21%. It’s admittedly a narrow lead over Biden and Warren, who did merit 19% each in this poll. But it nevertheless speaks to the significantly underestimated way in which Bernie has built a vast coalition.

It’s possible that the flailing campaigns of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren may be able to take some of the wind out of Bernie’s sails. Klobuchar, who sustained a level of remarkably controlled rage against Pete in the last two debates, will no doubt be galvanized by this news. But it’s doubtful that she will crack much more than 6% in most of the Super Tuesday races. Warren has a slightly better chance, but her support has plummeted in the most recent primaries. 9.2% in New Hampshire. 9.7% in Nevada. If we look to Nevada as a litmus test, the 14.3% that Buttigieg won in that state would likely be split among Bernie, Biden, and Warren. And if that’s indicative of the national clime, that’s simply not enough of a share for her to roll past Biden, who will likely see stronger numbers in future races after his win in South Carolina.

Biden represents the likely second place candidate. But he’s going to need to mobilize a lot of people to donate money in the next few weeks. And he’s going to need to have a very strong showing in the fourteen states up for grabs just two days from now.

All this is very good news for Bernie. But his campaign should not grow complacent. As I argued last night, he’s going to need someone like Stacey Abrams in his corner. He’s going to need to demonstrate to black voters and older voters that he’s worked out the numbers and that he stands with a coalition that is inclusive of centrists and the South. His present strategy of pointing out that universal healthcare and free college tuition are not radical ideas is a start. But this is a place where Biden is likely to attack him on.

Buttigieg’s exit is definitely Bernie’s gain. But it’s not the end of this grueling race. Not by a long shot.