The Maskless Run Amuck in Fort Lauderdale

They’ve thrown temper tantrums in stores. They’ve congregated in indoor rallies while donning red MAGA caps. Even when people among them die — such as the late Herman Cain weeks after Tulsa — they insist that the COVID protection is all a conspiracy — even after every scientific authority has insisted that the mask is the best way to protect yourself and others against the virus. They believe that any edict urging them to wear a facemask during a pandemic is an assault on their basic freedom.

So it was only a matter of time before they would start hitting the big box stores, adopting the ancient flashmob format — the finest social gathering format that 2005 had to offer.

A video of maskless demonstrators running amuck in a Fort Lauderdale Target went viral in the last two days. They walked into the store on September 15, 2020 wearing masks. Then they blasted the music. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It.” A man ripped off his facemask and shouted, “Alright! We’re tired of shopping with masks on. And now we’re taking the masks off. You guys, we’re done with it!”

“Fucking idiots,” replied one of the people videotaping the incident.

The protesters ran like crazed proselytizers through the red decor of Target, urging all and sundry to “take their masks off.”

“That’s the only way it’s going to work! Is if we all unite!” shouted one woman.

They were allowed to do this for at least five minutes. One Target employee aloofly tried to intervene, not knowing what to do and mumbling something about having a nice day. But one of the agitators cried back, “Hey, you have a nice day, man!”

The Huffington Post‘s Jenna Amatulli was one of the first on the story. One of the protesters told her, “Don’t force me to wear a mask. Because it’s my right not to wear one!”

This was clearly the beginning of a makeshift movement. Cristina Gomez was one of the protesters. In a video that Gomez posted to Facebook (mirrored above), a man standing on the bed of a truck in a parking lot, shouted, “How is it that when their mask is working that I have to wear one too? And here’s the bottom line, okay? We’ve been using the medical exceptions. We’ve been using the religious exceptions. And that’s all fine and good. But no more exceptions! No more any of this!”

Gomez then pans her camera to a group of kids and shouts, “Can we get the kids? The cool kids? These are the cool kids. These are the future real men. Grown future grown men [sic] that are not wearing a mask.” Preying upon the innocence and vulnerability of kids is very much a part of this operation.

In the video, a young man by the name of John Gustavo, who claims on his Facebook page to be an “honest journalist,” then proceeds to interview this rowdy bunch — much in the manner of a Daily Caller reporter embedded within a Trump rally. What’s important is that these protesters look as if they could be taken seriously. And if that means using a flashmob format that appears to have emerged from an action plan or looking important enough to attract illusory “media attention,” this too is part of the deal.

At no point in any of the footage that I have reviewed do these protesters consider their maskless activity to be dangerous or infectious. And as I was to learn in a phone call on late Wednesday afternoon that I had with a Fort Lauderdale assistant police chief, the concern for public health clearly wasn’t shared by the authorities.

I wanted to know what Target planned to do about this. Because this incident seemed to me a baleful escalation of all the other maskless rallies. I was able to get in touch with Target’s Danielle Schumann by telephone. She pledged that she would provide me with a specific statement on how Target planned to respond to the incident. (As of Wednesday evening, despite a followup phone call to Schumann giving Target an opportunity to respond, I was not in receipt of any such statement. Nor has the company’s Twitter feed produced any statement condemning the maskless flashmob.)

[UPDATE: Schumann did send along Target’s statement not long after I filed this piece. Here it is below:

We shared earlier this summer that Target requires guests to wear masks whenever they’re shopping in our stores. Our priority remains the health and safety of our team and guests and we communicate our mask requirement through signs in our stores, overhead announcements and reminders from team members at the front of our stores. 

We’re aware of the group of guests who came into the store last night and we asked them to leave after they removed their masks and became disruptive and rude to other shoppers.]

Schumann was very nice, but did not answer numerous questions that I put forth to her about how Target would contend with unruly shoppers without masks in the future or even how they had coordinated with the police. She did confirm with me that Target had a nationwide ban in place that went into effect on August 1, 2020. But that was all that I was able to get out of her.

I made calls to the City of Fort Lauderdale to determine if they planned to shift their policy after this incident. My calls were not returned.

Interim Assistant Chief Frank Sousa of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department was nice enough to get in touch with me. Given the tendency of protesters of any stripe to push their shenanigans further, I had many questions about how the police was enforcing Executive Order 20-21 from the Broward County Administrator, which specifically prohibited people from entering establishments without a mask.

Sousa told me that the police had arrived at the Target, but the protesters had disappeared. They had only spoken with the store’s loss prevention officer. There was some talk of a guy in a T-shirt.

“There was no further action taken,” wrote Sousa to me in an email. “I do not know if you are aware but the individuals in the video originally complied with the E.O. issued by the County by entering the store with their mask on.”

I wrote back: “Are you basically saying that if someone were to go into a store with a mask on, that the executive order would not be enforceable?”

There was some back-and-forth. The emails got longer. Finally, Sousa telephoned me. I tried to lighten the tension from our feisty email exchange by joking about how we had both lucked out by being on the right coast, given the orange skies on the Pacific. He laughed.

Sousa informed me that, despite the executive order, walking around without a mask was not a crime. The only consequences were a civil fine.

Well, how do you expect people to comply with the executive order?

“We educate.”

How?

Sousa declined to say, but he suggested to me that there wasn’t rampant non-compliance in Broward County.

“They’re there to make a statement,” said Sousa of the Target group. “It’s the First Amendment.”

But doesn’t putting other people’s health at risk belie free speech?

“It’s not the police’s position to be the opinion police.”

I suggested that there were some situations that transcended mere opinions. I asked Sousa repeatedly if he would consider shifting this policy. I asked him if he considered walking into a store without a mask and endangering other people’s health to be riskier than, say, protesting outdoors without a mask.

He said he didn’t have an opinion.

Sousa suggested that there had been some enforcement of people not wearing masks indoors. Citations as well as fines. But he told me that he couldn’t offer me a precise answer because he didn’t have the stats in front of him. Which was a completely reasonable answer. But ultimately he believed that the Target incident was a free speech issue.

“They have their First Amendment rights. There is a county order.”

I liked Sousa. He seemed like the kind of man I could probably have a beer with, but only if he left his gun and his billy club at the station. Still, there was a growing tension to our exchange, one that I was able to gauge through the increased number of surly “Sirs” he barked at me over the phone as I carried on with my questions. I respectfully pressed Sousa on hypothetical changes to this policy, especially if the infection rate or the number of cases went up in the Fort Lauderdale area. But he declined to answer.

The takeaway here is that, if you are in the Florida area and choose to lead a maskless rebellion within the expansive confines of an indoor shopping mall, you will probably not be arrested by the police. The Fort Lauderdale Police, for one, certainly isn’t going to press you with additional charges. Especially if you have the foresight to leave the premises before the police arrive.

If you happen to be one of those people who sees masks as an affront to your freedom rather than an essential tool that will help flatten the curve, then, hey, sky’s the limit! Nobody will stand in your way. Not Target. Not the police. And certainly not the mayors and the governors who refuse to evoke protective regulations that can decrease COVID cases and save lives.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2020 8:30 PM UPDATE: I just received a statement from Target. I’ve added it to the story.

Bob Woodward’s Rage: Not a Barnbuster, But Still Vital

RAGE
by Bob Woodward
Simon and Schuster, 480 pages

It goes without saying that, contrary to Trump’s maddeningly megalomaniacal claim that his signature is now worth $10,000 on eBay, most of the universe would sleep easier if this walking disaster would swiftly disappear. And because this state of affairs is the norm, backed up by polls showing that the current President can barely squeak past 40% in the polls against Biden, it does make reading the latest Trump tell-all an act of masochism.

Most of us know that Trump has mangled the pandemic and permanently uprooted millions of Americans now facing grief, eviction, and unemployment. Most of us intuitively understand that nearly 200,000 Americans are dead because of Trump’s arrogance, cruelty, and ineptitude. Why then would one want to read another book exposing this pernicious sociopath?

Well, when it’s Bob Woodward, you do. Rage, Woodward’s followup to Fury, is different from his previous Trump volume because, this time around, he actually talked with Agent Orange, landing eighteen interviews with the monster between December 2019 and July 21, 2020 — the last on the very day his manuscript was due. It is different because we’ve been in the prepublication position of listening to the tapes. Trump clearly knew how deadly the virus was and he lied to the American public about it. Just as he lied about calling McCain and military veterans “losers” and “suckers” — as recently as last night in a town hall appearance on ABC. This disparity between the private and the public represents the very reason why we need journalists to dig up the details.

The book arrived last night. I stayed up until 5 AM reading it. The volume is by no means a barnbuster and will probably not change too many minds, but it does offer an even-handed narrative that serves as a necessary reminder of just what we’ve come to accept from the executive branch and why this simply cannot be the norm of American politics.

The book’s first half is largely a summary of the political hellscape that we’ve come to accept, with some new context. We see former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former secretary of defense Jim Mattis enter into a Faustaian bargain with Trump under what now seems to be a dowdy ideal of patriotism and loyalty, no matter how bungling and dangerous the Commander-in-Chief may be. “How can you work for that man?” asks Mattis’s mother. “Ma, last time I checked, I work for the Constitution,” replied Mattis. Tillerson asks for numerous reassurances (being able to pick his own staff, asking Trump to refrain from a public dispute) before uneasily accepting the job. Tillerson, like many former Trump staffers, would be swiftly betrayed and have his conditions vitiated.

Mattis would find himself in a madhouse, contending with an easily distracted maniac who refused to countenance the facts. Here’s a stunning Mattis quote from the Woodward book:

It is very difficult to have a discussion with the president. If an intel briefer was going to start a discussion with the president, they were only a couple sentences in and it would go off on what I kind of irreverently call those Seattle freeway off-ramps to nowhere. Shoot off onto another subject. So it was not where you could take him to 30,000 feet. You could try, but then something that had been said on Fox News or something was more salient to him. So you had to deal with it. He’d been voted in. And our job was not to take a political or partisan position. It was, how do you govern this country and try to keep this experiment alive for one more year?

We see Senator Lindsey Graham — a man who, only five years ago, denounced Trump as “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” on CNN — cozy up to Trump on the golf course, even willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt when evidence of Russian collusion was stacked against him. “Listen,” said Graham to Trump, “if you actually did this, even though it was before you were president, you cannot serve.” Trump responded, “I’ve done a lot of bad things, but I didn’t do this.”

In other words, the new loyalty among those who worked with Trump meant accepting blanket statements at face value, never corroborating these against the facts and, above all, never fighting a pernicious leader who was committed to magical thinking when he wasn’t abdicating his duties altogether. This is one of the key takeaways from Woodward’s book, one that eluded Alexander Nazaryan at the Los Angeles Times.1

What Trump has effectively accomplished over the last four years is to create a political environment in which believing in tangible and objective facts is now partisan. Much as empathy and taking care of a suffering population has become partisan. For there is no other way to explain why so many of the people who endured Trump over the long haul altered their command of the facts.

One of the book’s more shocking revelations involves Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC. Here is the man who ostensibly exists to protect the national health. When he first learned of the virus, Redfield nimbly cracked the whip and gathered his team — on New Year’s Eve, no less — and produced a three-page memo, the first of many detailed daily reports. But as we see in the book, even Redfield could be corrupted.

In late February, Redfield had information that there was “a big problem in New York.” There were cases of people from Italy who had been infected with the virus. At this point, Redfield was well aware just how fast the virus could spread. But he fell in with the Trump line, telling the commonweal, “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives. Okay?”

If Woodward doesn’t quite answer the question of how ostensible scientists like Redfield could abdicate the very scientific method in favor of Trump loyalty and propaganda, Woodward’s conversations with Trump, which constitute the book’s second half, are of considerable importance in understanding how we have permitted such a beast to get away with anything. The episodes involving Kim Jung-un reveal not only how Trump could be easily manipulated with targeted flattery (Kim always referred to Trump as “Your Excellency” in “love letters” obtained by Woodward), but of how flexible Trump could be in humanizing clear human rights abusers. When Woodward asks how he could have cozy relationships with monstrous men, Trump replies, “It’s funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know? Explain that to me someday, okay?”

Moreover, there is a creepy womanizing approach that Trump applies to diplomacy, one that makes the victims of Trump’s abuse and harassment even more necessary to not brush under the carpet. Here is Trump describing meeting Kim:

“You meet a woman. In one second, you know whether or not it’s all going to happen. It doesn’t take you 10 minutes, and it doesn’t take you six weeks. It’s like, whoa. Okay. You know? It takes somewhat less than a second.

Woodward also offers definitive evidence of just what a blundering credit taker Trump has been, particularly in relation to the virus. Five people – Dr. Anthony Fauci, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, the aforementioned Redfield, and security advisers Robert C. O’Brien and Matthew Pottinger — urged Trump to initiate travel restrictions on China. On deep background, Woodward paints a picture of a man merely telling the room, “Are you guys okay with this?” rather than, contrary to his own myth-making, being the sole voice to demand a flight ban. (Moreover, it is Fauci himself who suggests that stranded Americans be given the opportunity to return home.)

Jared Kushner tells Woodward that one of Trump’s great skills is “figuring out how to trigger the other side by picking fights with them where he makes them take stupid positions.” This quality may also explain why guys like Redfield and Mattis eventually gave up the ghost and allowed Trump to beat them down into tacit acceptance of the counterfactual.

And maybe that’s the rage of the title that we’re meant to feel here. Righteous indignation that was once so easily summoned and used to take out the politically corrupt, but that has been deadened over the last four years — save perhaps for the valiant efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, which may very well be our only remaining hope. Because Trump is the new normal. And we’re all so busy trying to survive a pandemic, climate change on the West Coast, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

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

♬ (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.