All posts by stephani9

Student Loan Forgiveness

I never had a student loan. I think my mother would have fallen over dead at the thought of ANY kind of college loan. Instead – I knew as a high school student my mother had put every money gift I had ever received into a separate savings account. When it came time to apply to a college or two – that 17 years of savings was the determinator. Not me.

I wanted to get as far away from home (and Boston) as humanly possible. My dream school was UCLA. Northwestern a close second. I wanted to major in journalism or communications or TV production. Maybe all of them. And also get discovered by some talent agent. Maybe sitting – Lana Turner-like – at some coffee shop counter. It didn’t matter that I wore thick glasses and couldn’t sing, dance or act. Or had seen too many old Hollywood films.

And then my mother told me how much money was in the cookie jar – so to speak. Enough for Boston University tuition if I lived at home. Or Syracuse University in upstate New York. If I lived with my irascible aunt and her stamp-collecting husband. Either way, I would have to keep working to pay for my books, transit fares and lunches. Despite my inflated opinion of myself – I didn’t qualify for an educational scholarship to a top tier school. And that was the only kind of non-loan financial help available then.

Dreams. Dashed.

So I sucked it up and went to Boston University. Since I already knew my way around the broadcast world in Boston and had a great part time job. I’m not sure exactly what I learned at BU – except to question everything. Maybe the most valuable knowledge anyone can take away from any advanced education. I developed the only live jazz show in Boston on the then BU-owned FM station. DJ’d a jazz show on a rival college FM station as well. And when I graduated and got a job in New York City and then a studio apartment with a friend – I owed NOTHING. To NO one. Who needed UCLA? Or even Harvard across the Charles River – which we downscale BU students so loved to hate. And after that first job – no one ever cared WHERE I had gone to college. Just that I could do the job – and was more than willing to give it 200 percent.

So now it’s 2022 and a raft of college graduates with varying degrees and job skills owe an eye-popping $1.75 TRILLION for their education, according to the latest Federal Reserve data. The average college grad owes $36, 510. Private school debt averages $54,921. For which many graduates are not-so-humbly demanding forgiveness. For ALL of it.

The Education Department is already poised to cancel $5.8 Billion in debt for about 560,000 students who enrolled in the for-profit Corinthian Colleges. The largest loan-forgiveness ever by the Federal department. Corinthian folded in 2015 after a Federal investigation. And there is great pressure on President Biden from his own party’s self-named Progressives to forgive at least the $10,000 per graduate now being actively discussed in the White House.

So here comes the rant. ARE YOU KIDDING? Didn’t any of these former students or their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles KNOW what taking out a 4 or 6 or 8 year college loan meant? Has anyone ever had their home mortgage loan just “forgiven”? How about that car loan? And consider the amount of credit card debt almost all of us carry. If you know a bank that’s willing to pretend it never existed — could you please tell the rest of us? And particularly all those former students who have – dutifully – done what they knowingly signed up to do. Pay off their student loans.

Now it’s one thing to knowingly take out a loan for a specified amount of money. And it’s quite something else to have to pay off twice or three times the actual loan — because of the often usurious interest charged for all student loans. At least I think it’s usurious. And it’s something no one ever seems to talk about. Cancel the loan? No way. Cancel the interest? Totally.

And let’s say you take out a loan when you go to college at what even I might think is a reasonable interest rate. Next year it probably won’t be quite so reasonable. Because Congress sets new rates for the loans every year. And if banks are raising rates — you can be sure the Feds will raise them also. Which is how many people end up paying off their original loan 2 or 3 times.

So here’s my proposal. Keep the loans. Cancel the interest. Yes, ALL of it. Why should anyone have to pay INTEREST to be educated? But those who took out the original loans should still have to pay them off. Like all the rest of us have to pay off OUR loans of any kind. And while we’re at it – let’s limit the amount of loans allowed for attending private, for-profit colleges and universities. Some of the best universities in the US are state or even city-run. And before states started cutting the money they put in their budgets for education – tuitions to those really good state schools were actually affordable. Especially for those who actually lived in the state.

And while we’re at it – how about limiting at least some loans for graduate school as well – to cut down on the education mission creep that contributes nothing to most jobs except, perhaps, slightly inflated salaries. You don’t need a graduate degree, for example, to be a good journalist. A careful review of primary school spelling and grammar might be good, however. I’m sure the kids in summer school would love to help you.

Dear Elon!

So for days I’ve been listening to all the analyst dissection of your $44 billion plan to buy (or not to buy) Twitter. And reading your tweets about counting bots and creating open source algorithms and having “fun” by opening the platform to just about anyone no matter the lies or misinformation or disinformation. Like reinstating President Trump. And his buddies. All of whom were banned for life after the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

So Elon (I hope you don’t mind my using your first name – kind of what to expect when you restore that old soapbox to Twitter). Anyhow – Elon – you say you want to take a public social media platform private. But I’m not sure you really understand about Twitter. You really CAN’T own it. Nor -actually – can the current shareholders. Nor the board members who represent them and whom I’ve been told never actually use the platform.

Seriously Elon. WE own Twitter. Really. All of us who use it. That, of course, includes you – but no more or no less than each of us. And have you actually looked at who “us” are? Well there’s me of course but I really don’t count. And all the yahoos who think they’re being really cool by being snippy and snarky and just plain stupid. You know – like a lot of them who tweet back at you. No – I’m talking about literally every leader in the modern world – except perhaps those who have banned Twitter in their countries because it IS owned by the rest of us. In fact I would call Twitter the newsfeed for the world. Presidents and Prime Ministers and Kings and Queens make their official policy announcements on Twitter. Movie stars and rap stars and universities and companies — and on and on — tell their Twitter followers first. With all the rest of us watching.

Twitter is too important to belong to one somewhat erratic, imperious but brilliant entrepreneur Elon. It’s not Facebook or Instagram or Telegram or any other social media app. It’s too important to the world to be judged on Wall Street’s standards of new monthly users or total advertising dollars. Maybe it started that way but it’s morphed into something very different now. Something quite unique. Something which is the center of official and unofficial world information.

So – Elon – you really can’t have it. It’s not your plaything. Give it back to us. To everyone who thinks or writes or governs or sings or has a winning tennis swing. Just go back to getting us to Mars . It’s really more interesting and needs your genius. Twitter doesn’t. It just needs everyone who matters in the World – including you – to keep tweeting. So those of us who don’t matter quite so much can continue to feel a part of something really, really BIG.

Spring, Ukraine and Me

Photo credit: Bilozerska.info

If somehow you haven’t noticed – it’s finally spring. Even up here in the Northeast. The forsythia and early daffodils are finally giving way to the flowering fruit trees and even a tulip or two. The lawns of suburialand are that perfect, spring green. Not quite kelly green. But that crisper green that eventually gives way to the deeper, summer green. If you walk around the neighborhood without your AirPods – and really look – you’ll see it.

So yes – it’s spring. But far away from my greening landscape is another one. It’s spring there also. We can tell from the live shots. The trees leafing out around the horribly gray, bombed and shelled-out buildings. Spring in the land Russia’s Vladimir Putin is trying to obliterate in the name of recreating the Czarist Russian empire he alone yearns for. Spring in the destroyed land where so many Ukrainians have already died, where so many lives have been unalterably changed, where so many futures have been destroyed. Where the bombs and shells just keep falling.

Does anyone else here in our comfortable America feel as guilty as I do? Walking every day in the warming beauty of Spring, hearing the birds singing and calling to each other to mate and produce the next generation? There will be no bombs to frighten them away or pulverize them in their nests. As always, spring will just slowly turn to summer here – with its more mature beauty. Yes there will be storms and localized floods – even tornados and later, hurricanes. But they will be random – with no pre-programmed, evil intent to destroy an entire people and its country.

How can I immerse myself joyfully in the annual ritual of spring when on the TV each morning and evening, or streaming from my phone or tablet are those searing images from Ukraine?

How can I smell the young grass and the blossoming trees and rejoice in their colors after the drab gray winter when I see the still gray, pulverized city of Mariupol? When I think of the people who used to live there, in a then modern city quite similar to ours here? And who are now dead or gravely wounded or forever traumatized by Putin’s marauding, undisciplined army of unschooled Russian conscripts?

And so for me at least – this is a very different spring. One in which I constantly ask myself and anyone else who will listen – how can so-called human beings, the ones who power our Western world, have allowed all this to happen? How could they have been unable or unwilling to stop Putin’s medieval siege and blockade of Mariupol and its last holdouts in the steel factory on its outskirts? For Ukraine it’s far too late now to even care about the answers of course. Mariupol is finished and – tragically – the last-ditch defenders left in the steel factory nearly so. But still – I care. I need to know. Because even if spring still comes every year – one year it may be OUR cities demolished, OUR citizens killed. By some undisciplined army, led by some other megalomaniac. Drunk on ancient visions of glory. Green shoots in front of OUR pulverized buildings.

Remember – almost no one thought it could happen to Ukraine either.

Stress

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a reporter who loved stress. She called it “good stress”. And it was mostly about making deadlines and finishing marathons. Interviewing, writing, live shots, telling people’s stories – that all got better under the good stress.  Knowing there wasn’t an option NOT to train for a marathon got her out the door those cold snowy mornings. Before work. And after just four hours sleep.

Ahhhhh good stress. How I miss it.

Stress now is mostly about the endless pandemic. Covid-19. And variant after variant. Almost 2 years of fear, grief, lockdowns, masks, travel bans and Zoom.  Families in mourning. Families divided. Friends not speaking. Children in hospitals.  Vaccine passports. Vaccine mandates. Tests to fly to a foreign country. Tests to get back home. Rules changing overnight. Anti-vaxxers clogging up hospital systems through rounds of different variants. Jobs lost. Or maybe – The Great Resignation. Live events – theater, concerts, clubs – cancelled or restricted.

Only big league sports escaped the shut downs. Even before vaccines. Perhaps because there was so much money at stake. But then this month – as the omicron variant flared – the money suddenly stopped talking.  As the ultimate bad boy story unfolded. Tennis star Novak Djokovic – adamantly unvaccinated – got tossed out of Australia before he could defend his title. For lying on his visa. More or less.

Inflation is soaring, the supply chain has been broken for months and months, The Federal Reserve still seems paralyzed, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was and still is a tragic disaster and President Joe Biden – elected to fix what his predecessor had broken – seems – along with his dysfunctional party – unable to walk and chew gum. Meanwhile the democracy most Americans have cherished for hundreds of years looks ready to collapse under the weight of social media-driven misinformation and Trump-world QAnon lies and conspiracy theories.

You want to talk about stress?

A few months ago I read in a health report that collectively – Americans’ blood pressure has risen markedly since COVID-19 enveloped us.  I know mine has. I’m angry all the time now. So is everyone I know and seemingly, everyone I DON’T know. It’s an inchoate anger.  At everything that keeps going wrong. At a rickety health system where doctors, nurses and other hospital staffs worked until they collapsed and yet somehow loved ones and friends died. It’s an anger that more than a year after vaccines started going into arms – the now militantly UNvaccinated have made it almost a Trumpian religion to stay that way. Even as Trump himself has finally begun touting the virtues of getting the vaccine his administration actually produced. It’s an anger that keeps building because once again the hospitals are full, health workers are exhausted and at least 80% of those on respirators now are unvaccinated. Many of the rest just didn’t bother to get their boosters.

There have always been lots of things which stress us out. They’ve usually varied – person to person. Often in the past, money – or rather the lack of money – has been the biggest stressor. Now – it’s all tied up in COVID. Somehow, in some continually frustrating way, the virus is at the heart of everything. Sometimes it seems we’re not just wobbling under this burden of stress. We’ve all gone down that rabbit hole in some way. Descending into a fragmenting world where everyone seems not just stressed but after almost two pandemic years – almost mentally ill.  Every week it seems we hear of someone pushed onto the subway tracks. Or knocked over from behind on a busy city street. Or shot for literally no reason at all.

Meanwhile the confusing rhetoric from health officials continues. About the omicron variant and masks and maybe a fourth vaccine shot when so few have even gotten the third…..and on and on and on and on.

I yell all the time. At my husband (who yells back at me). At the poor cats. In my car. As everyone else in THEIR cars seems to be doing the same thing.

When will this end? HOW will it end? Where are the psychologists on cable TV or even on Twitter who can explain us to ourselves.  Tie it all together and tell us how to make it stop?

There is seemingly nothing in this world right now (except perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aberrant dream of recreating the Soviet Union) that is not based on or caused by or related to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the way our officials handled or didn’t handle it. And the way we in the free world are reacting to losing the personal freedom we all once believed could never be ripped away.

Irish Brown Bread

Those who know me know. I. Don’t. Cook. I haven’t joined the national mania for baking bread. I tend to live on open face cheese sandwiches on toasted Indian NAN or flatbread. Or on whatever my husband cooks – something he has learned to do really well during the pandemic. As he says, protectively. To stay alive.

My local supermarket is part of a chain owned by Ahold Delhaize – the huge European company which owns so many supermarket chains. And in my small suburb – my Ahold outpost has a UK section. A bunch of shelves with all kinds of wonderful  (to an American) everyday British and Scottish and Irish foods. Including I discovered – an Irish Brown Bread mix to which you only add water, knead a bit and bake.  Actually it’s a soda bread but close enough.  I grabbed it.

So. It was supposed to snow – again – the next day. A lot. Like maybe 30 inches. We’d already gotten the pre-storm call from the power company.  I know it by heart now. “We have you listed as a well water customer. A (fill in the type)storm is forecast for tomorrow.  You may lose power. Collect extra water in bottles. etc.” OK, fine. I’d better bake my brown bread tonight. Continue reading Irish Brown Bread

My Romance with Starbucks? History.

My email pitched me double stars today and reflexively I opened my Starbucks iPhone app and started looking at the specialty drinks menu. Then I remembered – for the umpteenth time this winter — the Starbucks I loved is gone. At least until we all get vaccinated. And probably forever. Where I live it’s just grab and go. Or sit like a jerk in the car for a half hour waiting for carloads of friends and family ahead of me to order in real time. 5 adults and 3 kids in a Chevy Suburban ordering Artisan drinks like a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with extra whipped cream and 5 pumps Frappuccino Roast and Mocha Drizzle and Caramel Brulee topping – oh – and a touch – just a touch of Cinnamon Powder. Apparently people in cars aren’t capable of ordering ahead – in app. Leading me to wonder how the average family can even AFFORD Starbucks with so many jobs lost. And worse – whether ANY of us should be so indulgent when a few miles away so many others – their lives destroyed by the decimated travel industry, closed restaurants and other bankrupt small businesses are lined up at food banks, desperate for a meal.

But the Starbucks habit can be hard to shake. The coffee is really good. And hot in these sub-freezing temperatures. And the zillion calorie grilled cheese sandwich, which the British coffee chain Costa calls a cheese toastie – much truer to form – is totally yummy.

But not in a cramped Mini Cooper – with the cheese dripping onto my coat and the coffee constantly in danger of spilling everywhere. Not now.  Maybe. Not. Ever. Again.

Starbucks used to be the closest thing you could find to a real Greenwich Village coffee house north of Houston Street. Each one was darkish, with big brown couches and easy chairs. The one on Columbus Avenue –  up on New York City’s West Side – was always full, the chairs and tables pulled wherever groups of friends wanted them.  The jazz playlist soothing,  Then Starbucks started opening stores on almost every city corner. They got smaller. Fewer places to sit and work if you were a lonely freelancer, longing just to look at other people. And maybe exchange a smile. Then came the suburbs. Suddenly my nice, darkish,  calming getaway turned corporate. Nothing old and comfortably rumpled. Just oblong, strip mall stores with plain tables and wooden chairs always lined up in rows. Always one big business meeting table. Stuffed into the ever smaller spaces. No charm. The lonely people with their laptops lined up along a wall. Starring out at the empty space.

And then – nearly a year ago now – COVID-19 invaded.  And Starbucks changed its image. Those stores on every corner in the city? Many closed forever, the rest grab and go. The few tables inside – taped off. The office workers who streamed into the cities and into Starbucks for morning coffee or a late lunch – gone. Working at home. Maybe permanently. Whether they want to or not. Stores closing in the suburbs as well. And in their place the ubiquitous drive throughs. MacDonald’s with better but much more expensive coffee. And no fries. You’ve heard about the COVID 15? Pounds, that is? Never getting out of your car hasn’t helped.

So. Double stars Starbucks? I don’t think so. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe – not ever.

shopping mall

The Apple Store

Recently I went to an Apple store. In a suburban mall in New Jersey. It was the week after Black Friday weekend and its deluge of online sales. I had hoped to exchange an iPhone case I also bought on line.

At midafternoon the mall was quiet as most malls are in a state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again leapfrogging themselves. But the Apple store was more than quiet. it was bare. No new iPhones or MacBooks on the tables. No iPhone or iPad cases on the shelves. Nothing. To. Buy.

It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a pandemic year of sad upon sadder things. A store which like all Apple stores has always been brimming with delighted energy – silent. Nearly deserted. 3 weeks before Christmas.

It was suddenly a metaphor for everything I’ve cried over as 2020’s increasing miseries and tragedies and deaths piled up. This Apple store looked like – well – death. Like a place where the lights were about to be snuffed out. As I said, a metaphor for all the human lights snuffed out needlessly this year and all the small business lights snuffed out because Congress couldn’t find enough decency to help them through this financially until the very end of the year. When it was way too late. Then there are all the grandparents who still can’t see their new grandkids and all the kids who still can’t go to real school in person and all the young people in their first or second jobs who still can’t drop by anyone’s desk to ask a newbie’s casual question.

An Apple store means many things to many people. But until now it has never meant lost jobs or food bank lines which stretch forever. Or loved ones who never saw the holiday gifts already bought for them. An Apple store. Deserted and like so much in 2020 and still in 2021- dead.

Musings on Re-opening Our World

So while you’ve been sitting at home munching chips and watching Netflix (its first quarter earnings report showed the streaming entertainment service added twice as many new subscriptions as Wall Streeters had expected), a lot of people have been strategizing how to restart the world. Or at least their small part of it. Among them a guy named Shelly Palmer who’s a well known digital marketing and technology consultant. Palmer sends daily newsletters which often contain provocative theses. And he often asks readers for their ideas and reactions.

So last night – when Shelly Palmer asked how each of his readers would re-open the United States – I opened my big mouth.  And offered my very subjective suggestions. As this is titled – just musings. About the things which matter most to me. In the order which matters most to me. 

Here goes.

Right at the top of the list  – on the first day – I want the larger, spacious gyms re-opened for those of us who desperately need them. And weekend bike and running races reinstated. I want ONLY small restaurants reopened. Where the owner can really be held accountable for sanitizing and distancing.  Oh – and Starbucks.  I said this would be subjective. I want all parks which are meant for vigorous activity reopened if they’ve been closed. And I and most everyone else want to be able to go back to work. Maybe half and half home and work if it’s that kind of job. I want hair salons and barbershops open because  we certainly can’t go back to work looking like we do now. Nail salons can wait. So can large venue concerts and sports stadiums. Sports themselves should be up to the athletes. I want some aspects of schools and colleges open. The situations educators think would be most valuable. Online teaching doesn’t work very well for student engagement. And parents can’t go back to work if their kids are still expected to learn at home.

Having said all this, I’m not crazy. Or stupid. I want it only with reasonable distancing between people at work. Plenty of wipes and chlorine spray to clean work surfaces and bathrooms constantly. Maybe employers can find them. I certainly can’t.  Extra general cleaning and sanitizing at work. The right of any worker who feels uncomfortable to stay home working or – if they must be physically present (warehouses, supermarkets, construction etc) – plenty of protection. Outdoor jobs kind of take care of themselves. It’s being trapped INDOORS with a possible asymptomatic person or with air conditioning which could possibly move that one person’s virus all over the building. I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t think a temperature check at the door will winnow out enough people. Many people with asymptomatic COVID-19 don’t have a fever.  We each have to be responsible and aware of our own situations. Much as social distancing has become a buzz phrase, let’s make situational awareness one also.

I don’t think it’s realistic to think office workers are going to wear home made, uncomfortable masks all day at work. I don’t think they do much anyhow for the general public. On crowded mass transit – masks may have some protective value but at the least they make people feel safer. Which might convince the fearful to start moving around and going back to work.

We need tests. Especially accurate antibody tests. Even though at this point we don’t know if those people who have antibodies also have immunity. Or for how long. I guess we’ll find out. And – caveat- we may not have enough of these tests till September. But we should have enough to test representative subsections of people – what the pollsters do. And draw some conclusions based on THAT data.  The Czech Republic is doing it that way. So are other countries.

Many countries around the world are reopening. Many with 2 weeks between stages. We have to also and monitor it carefully. We need to dip our toes into flying again. Lower our border “gates”.  If other countries will open their borders again to us and others. Some countries in Europe are throwing around ideas like keeping borders mostly closed for a year or more. Satisfying the most xenophobic. Or perhaps the most nervous. But the airlines will have to step up as well – figuring out how to distance all of us from each other. And find better ways to queue up for boarding, baggage drops and the like. That means repurposing employees to police all those lines. All of this best done with global consultation and cooperation. If that is still possible in the fractured world Donald Trump, Brexit and Hungary’s Victor Orban have helped create.

These ideas reflect  only what I care about, what I see as most important. Others will have other priorities.  Wherever we start – It just has to be done carefully. A lot of people are very frightened. Especially those who have lost a loved one or know people who have died or gotten very ill from the virus. My husband and I will joyously go back to our favorite restaurants as soon as I can get my hair done.  IF we’re sure they’re sanitized and we are properly distanced.

I’m not sure what to do about the bar stools.

 

Thoughts from house arrest

Random Thoughts from COVID19 House Arrest

The days are indistinguishable. Monday could be Friday. Or even Sunday. No “Miller Time” on Friday night (OK I’m dating myself). You can’t go drinking to celebrate the weekend. Or to celebrate anything. Endless dinners at home. Beer in a bottle sure. Not the same as fresh out of the barrel – on tap at a good Irish pub. Why bother? Just calories. And goodness knows with the ‘fridge always in easy reach – none of us needs more calories!

Thoughts from house arrest

Where I live, this is nearly the end of the 4th week of house arrest. And each week the restrictions have tightened. Now – new cases are leveling off at the apparent top of the curve. And still, our Governor wants more. Or should I say less. No gyms, of course. And now hilly, green parks with trails to run, bike and walk and rocky ridges to surmount are off limits. Healthy people can only stay that way by getting out and moving. A lot. The last thing left of the small things which make life tolerable. Gone.

When this is over – and I have to believe it WILL be over or I will go truly crazy – I hope the epidemiologists and learned public health doctors and oh-so-sure-of-themselves politicians will demand a true study of why so many people died from COVID19. Yes it’s more vicious than the seasonal flu. But the flu – with or without a vaccine (only 50% of us even get it) – shouldn’t be killing so many people either.

I think those studies will find something Americans should already know. In the richest and best educated nation on earth (or so we think) we have some of the unhealthiest people in the world. Who is dying here from COVID19 complications? Overwhelmingly it’s African-Americans and Latinos. In some jurisdictions they are twice as likely to die as whites. They already have the markers for getting very sick or dying when they contract the virus. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma. Often they have no health care. No family doctor. And very often they are the ones out in front. Working the essential jobs which require using mass transit to get there.

Actually the number of unhealthy people in the US – and truthfully all advanced nations – is huge. No matter who we are, where we live and what we do for a living. We are fat. We are lazy. We are couch potatoes watching sports and gobbling up chips. Even in cities with good mass transit – if we have cars, we use them. According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 20 percent of 12-19 year olds are obese. And close to that even for 6 to 11 year olds!!! Overall – says the CDC – over 40 percent of Americans are now obese. With all the serious diseases obesity and even moderate weight gain spawn. Just a few years ago, the percentage was about a third. I didn’t see any of these people – of ANY age or color – hiking, biking or even walking their dogs in the hilly parks our deep-thinking Governor just closed.


None of this is likely to change soon. This week Bernie Sanders made a very gracious concession speech as he left the Democratic Presidential nomination to Joe Biden. I think Bernie knew that with the trillions of dollars of deficit spending we’re unleashing to save the nation from diving into a corona virus-caused depression, there isn’t a chance in hell for his cherished Medicare for All. Or free college. Or permanent college loan forgiveness. Or any of the deficit-financed reforms he hoped to enact. We’re printing money like it was Bitcoin. And it’s just as ephemeral. No one has the slightest idea how all that money will be paid back. IF it will be paid back. Can the federal government with Congressional approval and the Federal Reserve with no one’s approval just keep piling up debt instead of dollars in the US Treasury? I’ve watched CNBC carefully all these weeks. Lots and lots of talk about this but – and perhaps I’m just a dunce – I still don’t understand how any nation can just rub the bottle and ask the Genie to create money that doesn’t exist. Some day – through Treasury bonds and bills – it has to be paid back. With at least a tiny bit of interest. Will there be any way our children and grandchildren can do that? Can someone please put Finance 101 into very, VERY plain, simple English?

Ok. I said these were random thoughts. I don’t feel very organized when I spend my day in running clothes. Yes Virginia, I DO shower before I go to bed. Happy now? I’m obviously not.

The COVID19 Panic

As I watch the stock market tank once again today (at this writing it’s down between 33 and 37% from its February highs) I get angrier and angrier. At our elected legislators in Washington who still can’t seem to compromise on a promised 2 trillion dollar stimulus plan. At the public health doctors who have panicked mayors and governors and ordinary people while they close down everything in sight and destroy what was still a pretty strong economy. And of course at President Trump who wouldn’t listen to the intelligence and CDC people as they warned, starting in January, there was a coronavirus tsunami coming. So here we are. Half of America under orders to stay home. See no one. Do nothing. Home school the restless kids. Work from home while you do it. Don‘t even go for a long run. Or bike ride. Or walk with your friends. Short, short. Even though exercise is the one thing that might boost your immune system to stave off the virus. Oh – and don’t go near Grandma who needs to be isolated from the only thing many older people care about. Family.

Meanwhile companies big and small are closing down. Stopping production. Closing small restaurants and shops vital to our sense of normalcy.  And gyms vital to our total health. Many of these probably closing down forever. Only businesses and operations seen by governors as essential can continue to operate. There are predictions of a 30% unemployment rate as laid off workers – so many of them in our new gig economy not covered by guaranteed, salaried employee benefits like unemployment – start piling up.

Yes we have a health crisis. It’s not only the President who wasn’t prepared. The CDC wasn’t prepared with the simple test the rest of the world has been using so successfully. The FDA wasn’t prepared – wrapping it’s overly red tape even tighter instead of cutting it early on. The state governors weren’t prepared. The hospitals big and small weren’t prepared. And certainly the publicly traded insurance companies and  PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers) which essentially run what passes for the US health care system weren’t prepared.  After encouraging hospitals for decades to pare back their general hospital rooms and ICUs and ability to handle any kind of health crisis from any source. And embrace financially rewarding elective surgery instead. While hospitals in less populated areas simply closed. Do telemedicine they suggested. Forgetting many rural areas don’t even have wifi or 5G mobile capability.

So of course there is panic everywhere. Not enough tests (only now ramping up). Not enough protective clothing and masks for medical workers. Not enough hospital beds or ICUs or ventilators. So the rest of us have to stay home and give up human contact lest we turn into Italy.

As CNBC’s Jim Cramer said early on, “no country wants to be Italy”.

So after a week or two of incredible stock market plunges and home arrest in the most populous US states – influential people are beginning to look at the destruction of everything – and worry that we may save lives but have no economy, no savings, no COUNTRY to creep back to. Suggestions are popping up for some kind of middle ground. For only 2 or 3 week shutdowns – 14 days for the incubation period of COVID19 and a week for evaluation. For quarantining only older people. As a group. Despite the fact that many are strong, healthy, athletic and very fit. Medication and underlying conditions free. With the immune systems of people much younger. Older people with health problems, like younger ones, know who they are and are likely to stay 6 feet away from anyone voluntarily.

Bottom line. We are social people. Even the millennials and Gen Z-ers who live digitally on their phones move around in real groups of real friends. The main reason everything is now shut down. Sure. We can all sacrifice the small pleasures which make life livable for a short time. But not indefinitely. People simply CANNOT live with “indefinitely”. A word far too many public health doctors and government officials are using.

Isn’t it time for end dates? So we have something to look forward to? So the economy has a reasonable chance at regeneration? Maybe targeted, rolling shutdowns only in hot spots like big cities. And then only for those 2 or 3 weeks. To slow the virus’ spread. Remembering that the more people who get the virus and either don’t show symptoms or recover quickly – the faster we may get that herd immunity which has helped with other viruses. Although of course we still don’t know if this NOVEL coronavirus reacts the same way.

We all have seen that graphic with the two curves. We have heard “flatten the curve” over and over. We understand. But you simply can’t lock us up forever.