COVID-19 As Metaphor — A Russian Master Strategist Weighs In — And Our Pick For President

By Gwyn Lurie   |   October 13, 2020

Four years ago this newspaper was one of a handful of publications nationally to announce its support for Donald Trump for president. It did so largely because of Trump’s positions on deregulation and renegotiating many of our trade agreements. In his 2016 endorsement, my predecessor wrote, “We do hope Trump lives up to his promises and assumes a mantle of responsibility and probity that a U.S. president must have.” Probity, being the quality of having strong moral principles such as honesty and decency, continues to be a good, important, and appropriate standard by which to measure the fitness and efficacy of a president or presidential candidate.

The Importance of Probity is why we Endorse Joe Biden for President

Joe Biden

Also, four years ago, 20X-World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was interviewed about a potential Trump presidency. As a Russian dissident and author of some important books about the precarious nature of Democracy, Kasparov became a prominent voice in a news cycle bleating the possible influence and interference of Russia in our election and politics. Most importantly, Kasparov is the greatest chess player of all time. He is not just a master strategist but one who understands specifically the Russian mentality regarding the accumulation, aggregation, and consolidation of power. A master strategist whose entire career is based on thinking 30 moves ahead.  So, it’s illuminating to look back at what Kasparov said when he was looking forward to a Trump presidency, especially as it relates to what might happen if probity became a casualty of our politics.

Kasparov quotes President Reagan who famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Kasparov knows that creating chaos on the chess board is the path to victory and the groundwork for chaos is distractions and gambits. Chaos distracts from the truth and, according to Kasparov, “Trump was the ideal agent of chaos.”

Today Trump is presiding over a COVID response so chaotic, so unnecessarily reckless, it is now ravaging the White House, so much so that the presidency itself has become an unsafe place.

It is no wonder we have the most COVID deaths of any nation on Earth. We have a president who has consistently flouted the advice of world class epidemiologists, touted the use of disproven remedies, and has turned masks, the only known preventative measure other than isolating and hand washing, into this year’s version of the rebel flag. And that’s just COVID.

Beyond Trump’s chaotic response to this pandemic, our beloved and beleaguered nation is dealing with pronounced and painful racial and ethnic divisions. And, a thus far resilient stock market aside (although it plummeted once again as we go to press), we are also dealing with the economic fallout from a still raging pandemic. These national comorbidities – COVID, race, and economic recession – strongly exacerbate one another.

We wish the president a full recovery. Still, it’s hard to not take umbrage that on the day Trump learned he’d been exposed to the coronavirus, he knowingly exposed (even) his own team – at least 30 of whom have since tested positive; he exposed pilots, Secret Service, journalists, marines, and his own supporters at his Bedminster event. Just Sunday, a symptomatic and highly contagious Trump put his own Secret Service and others at grave risk for a photo op of himself waving to supporters from his motorcade outside Walter Reed Medical Center.

The Gift that Keeps on Taking

The irony is lost on no one that a man who has consistently flouted science and shown a stunning lack of empathy for the 211,000 (and counting) American souls lost to this recklessly mishandled pandemic, is now receiving special access to the most advanced scientific cures under the guise of compassionate use. Compassion is not a word one would ever accurately use in connection with Trump. But it is perhaps the first word that would come to mind in connection with Joe Biden.

Kamala Harris

Certainly, the former vice president and Delaware senator is not perfect. There’s no question that his mixed record with women would be a bigger issue if his opponent was someone other than Donald Trump. It’s also true that Biden’s tough-on-crime record in the ‘80s and ‘90s has not worn well. Though his current justice platform includes ending the use of solitary confinement as punishment and eliminating cash bail.

Different moments call for different types of leadership. In this time of extreme societal polarization, Biden’s gift for bringing people together cannot be over-valued.  There are few Democratic leaders who have been as lovingly characterized by Republicans as Joe Biden. And it was his preternatural interpersonal skills that enabled him, as Obama’s freshly minted VP, to get Congress to approve a $787 billion stimulus package in 2009 to respond to our Great Recession.

On foreign policy, Biden will face a radically different world order left by Trump. A 20-year member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee (its Chair for several years) Biden embraces multilateral, deliberate foreign policy. He’s declared that his team would include globalists and isolationists, liberal interventionists and doves. Biden strongly believes in engaging with the world and has pledged to rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the World Health Organization, and will likely reverse Trump’s abdication of U.S. leadership in the coronavirus pandemic.

The fact is, in Trump and Biden we have two flawed candidates. Both white men in their mid-to-late 70s, they are the two oldest people ever to run for president. Both have had their physical and mental fitness questioned. So their VP choices matter.

Trump stays the course with a dutiful Mike Pence, the man in charge of our failed coronavirus response, who has refused to wear a mask even while visiting patients at Mayo Clinic, and like his boss, operates as if science is something to follow when it’s convenient.

In Kamala Harris, California’s former Attorney General, Biden has actually dipped into a well where opponents thought they saw a weak spot: his record on law and order. “Law and order” is not a term positively associated with Democrats these days, but most of us believe this country could use some real and thoughtful law and order, not the kind of autocratic arbitrary law and order we’ve witnessed of late. Harris is a strong bridge to norms and a functioning government and would help bring back integrity to the Justice Department. And it helps that as the person a heartbeat away from the presidency, voters view her as among the most qualified to be president.

But Biden’s real superpower lies not in his running mate nor on his public service resume. Having lost his first wife and two sons in a car accident and one of his two remaining sons to brain cancer, he is well known for exhibiting great empathy for others. Biden consistently calls upon his own experience with grief to comfort others dealing with personal loss. Wouldn’t it feel nice if, once again, we had a president to whom, in difficult moments, we could look for comfort? Here the road leads us back to that quality this publication sought back in 2016, lost along the way, but we can once again find, if we make the right choice.

Four years ago, Kasparov’s best guess on what a Trump presidency would bring is where we are today. Our pieces are weak and strung out all over the board. We desperately need a winning strategy, not an unending series of street fights. Now, it’s our turn to ask for compassionate use.

Biden’s strong record of “assuming a mantle of responsibility and probity” uniquely suits him to begin to heal this country’s deep divisions. We strongly endorse Joe Biden for president, with the same hope that this paper endorsed Trump four short – and very long – years ago.

California Ballot Propositions 2020

Prop 14

Ballot Description: Issues $5.5 billion in bonds for state stem cell research institute.

Background: Back in 2004, California voters made the state the first to approve public funding of stem cell research, providing $3 billion to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which is dedicated to ground-breaking medical research. That money is now gone; this initiative would extend the program for the next 30 years. Aside from creating more oversight for the program, Prop. 14 would also earmark some of the cash for research into diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia, as well as exploring new treatment (and hopefully) cures for cancer, heart disease, and dementia. Opponents (including one of CIRM’s own board members) argue that the actual price tag would be closer to $8 billion and say that it doesn’t go far enough to correct flaws in the program.

MJ Analysis: Stem cell research has already shown remarkable promise; the CIRM deserves continued public support and funding. YES

Prop 15

Ballot Description: Requires commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on market value and dedicates revenue.

Background: If approved, this initiative would represent the most massive overhaul of California’s tax system since 1978, when voters approved Prop 13, which enshrined in the state constitution the rights of homeowners to enjoy low property taxes (no more than a 1 percent increase per year), at the cost of radically limiting public spending in arenas such as public school and higher education. While Prop 13 benefited many families by making homeownership more affordable, it had the consequence of creating one of the least equitable economies in the nation, with anemic investment in affordable housing, skyrocketing rental prices, rising homelessness. The so-called electrified “third rail” of California politics, Prop 13 has been untouchable – until now. However, some critics, including former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, denounce it as a half-measure that fails to go far enough in freeing up property tax revenue.

MJ Analysis: Prop 15 would provide otherwise unavailable funding for education and other important social programs by allowing for the taxation of commercial properties at market value, while keeping homeowner protections in place. On the other hand, if this is not handled with extreme care, landlords are likely to pass the added cost on to renters, making it even harder for small business to get by. On this one we are A DIVIDED HOUSE. Sorry, you’re on your own.

Prop 16

Ballot Description: Repeals Prop 209 (1996) which says that the state cannot discriminate or grant preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education, or contracting.

Background: In the wake of a lawsuit brought by a white student who claimed her college application was rejected unfairly because of her race, California voters approved a measure to prohibit affirmative action policies that had been in place for the past few decades, particularly in higher education. Prop 16 effectively negates Prop 209, and is opposed by the original initiative’s chief backer, Ward Connerly, a former University of California Regent and African American who fought against affirmative action during the 1990s, as well as a lobbying group representing Asian-American students who advocate college admissions based solely on academic merit.

MJ Analysis: Wittingly or otherwise, Prop 209 led to dwindling numbers of economically disadvantaged people of color applying for and being accepted into California’s institutions of higher learning. Given the continuing racial and economic disparities in this state, affirmative action is a crucial tool to balance the odds in gaining access to higher education and the promise of prosperity. YES

Prop 17

Ballot Description: Restores the right to vote to people convicted of felonies who are on parole.

Background: California law currently prohibits anyone in prison or on parole from voting (although county jail inmates are allowed to vote as long as they aren’t either awaiting state or federal prison sentences or are behind bars for parole violations). So far, 16 states as well as the District of Columbia allow ex-cons to vote while still on parole, while both Maine and Vermont also allow incarcerated inmates to vote. Opponents of this initiative, including victim’s rights groups, believe that voting privileges should only be restored to ex-cons after they finish parole. Supporters, including the League of Women Voters, argue that granting voting rights to parolees is an important way to encourage civic involvement and reduce recidivism rates.

MJ Analysis: America is overdue for a national debate about voting rights, which have for too long been subjected to every kind of nefarious constraint from district gerrymandering to impossibly long lines on election day in poorer neighborhoods to the fact that we have no national election day holiday for voting. And let’s not even get started about superdelegates or our Electoral College. Prop 17 doesn’t solve all these problems but is a modest step in the right direction. YES

Prop 18

Ballot Description: Allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in primaries and special elections.

Background: This seemingly straightforward initiative would change the California Constitution to allow anyone to participate in elections or even run for office so long as they will have turned 18 by election day. Nationally, no less than 19 states as well as the nation’s capital already have done this. This is the sixth time that California’s Democrat-controlled state legislature has voted on this legislation and now they are turning to voters to weigh in and end the debate.

MJ Analysis: This is a solution in search of a problem. Given that 17-year-olds are barely mature enough to drive, but are still too young to join the military, drink alcohol, smoke recreational marijuana, much less enter into legal contracts, it’s difficult to see the justification for placing our precious democracy in the hands of mere babes. Try getting a job and moving out of your mom’s basement first, kids. NO.

Prop 19

Ballot Description: Changes tax assessment transfers and inheritance rules.

Background: If passed, Prop 19 would grant Californians aged 55 or older a major property tax break when purchasing a new home. It would also reduce a separate tax break other Californians might receive on homes inherited from family members. Because the original Prop 13 (see Prop 15 above) essentially froze property taxes for homeowners, the only way those taxes radically increase is when the property is sold for a new, and almost always much higher price. While granting lower property tax rates to new homebuyers, this proposal would ensure that folks inheriting property from parents can keep their artificially low rates so long as they continue to live in the same property.

MJ Analysis: Two years ago, realtor lobbyists sought to get a similar bill passed but voters rejected it because it didn’t address the state’s inheritance loophole, thus potentially costing state and local governments billions in lost revenue. This time, the loophole’s been fixed, and the measure would restore some balance to how property taxes are levied by making it easier for middle-aged people to buy new homes. It’s worth noting that the only significant group opposing Prop 19 is the absolutist Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which was responsible for Prop 13 in the first place. YES

Prop 20

Ballot Description: Makes changes to policies related to criminal sentencing charges, prison release, and DNA collection.

Background: This proposed law would increase punishment for certain property crimes and repeated parole violations, while also making it more difficult for some incarcerated individuals to achieve early release from prison and parole. Among other things, Prop 20 would allow prosecutors to charge suspects with stealing more than $250 with felonies as opposed to misdemeanors and require police to collect DNA samples from people convicted of crimes such as shoplifting, forgery, and drug possession. The number of felonies that would prohibit an inmate from early release from prison would be doubled under this law.

MJ Analysis: The lessons of California’s flirtation with stiffer treatment of criminals, as exemplified by the 1994 passage of the “Three Strikes” law, are now beyond clear. Aside from some legendarily unfair mandatory prison sentences for repeat offenders, (think 25-to-life for stealing a piece of pizza), it led to the mass incarceration of a generation of mostly poor minorities. Another consequence: prison overcrowding, which led voters six years ago to approve Prop. 47, which reduced many non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. Prop 20 is a clear attempt by the law-and-order lobby to reverse such reforms. NO

Prop 21

Ballot Description: Expands local governments’ power to use rent control.

Background: This proposed initiative, which is backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation as well as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would expand rent control to include any building at least 15 years old. This would supposedly protect working families, struggling harder than ever during the global pandemic, from being evicted, while also allowing developers a substantial time frame to recoup their investment before rent control would kick in. A similar rent-control measure flailed at the ballot box two years ago; Prop 16 is a slightly modified version that proponents hope will get more votes.

MJ Analysis: There’s little debate that California’s rental rates, whether in dense urban areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, or upscale enclaves like Montecito, are prohibitively high. However, this problem has already been addressed by recent legislation that caps rent increases to 8 percent per year. Given that California already faces a major housing shortage and most cities are already struggling with reduced tax revenue, Prop 21 is an unnecessary measure that will only discourage new homebuilding while offering scant extra protection to low income renters. NO

Prop 22

Ballot Description: Considers app-based drivers to be independent contractors and enacts several labor policies related to app-based companies.

Background: By far the most contentious initiative on the ballot, Prop 22 is the brainchild of tech giants Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash, the multi-headed Hydra of California’s gig economy, which pumped $180 million into the campaign, making it the most expensive ballot proposition in U.S. history. If passed, it would cement the ability of ride-sharing and food delivery companies to deny drivers access to a minimum wage, paid sick leave, workers compensation or unemployment benefits. State law currently requires these protections, but California’s Attorney General had to sue the companies in an effort to force compliance.

MJ Analysis: While there is no turning back the clock on technology, California’s gig economy threatens to undermine our basic notion of a fair economy. Companies such as Uber and Lyft pretend that their full-time employees are independent contractors who are thus ineligible for basic worker protections. While there have been misguided attempts in Sacramento to force companies to provide health insurance to freelance workers (the legislation backfired and has already been written out of the law), Prop 22 is a clear attempt by a cabal of corporations to avoid paying their fair share of costs to allow for a modicum of job security for their own workers. NO. To be clear, we support independent contractors, like writers and artists, to have control over where and when they work. In order to bypass AB5, many independent contractors have had to create LLCs, thereby incurring a prohibitive 800-dollar registration cost. While business friendly on the outside, this proposition disproportionately affects those who lack the lobbying power to make their voices heard or the money to work around it.

Prop 23

Ballot Description: Requires physician on-site at dialysis clinics and consent from the state for a clinic to close.

Background: There isn’t much more to Prop 23 than what it says in the ballot description: At least one physician needs to be present at dialysis clinics during operating hours and require infection data to be reported to the state. Further, clinics may not discriminate against patients based on their form of insurance and must receive approval from the California Department of Public Health before closing for good.

MJ Analysis: With kidney failures on the rise, the state’s dialysis industry has been booming, and there’s a lot of cash at stake when it comes to new regulations.

Although the medical industry claims Prop 23 would add to healthcare costs and is simply a power grab by the Service Employees International Union, it’s hard to argue against having at least one actual doctor on hand for a treatment as important as dialysis. YES

Prop 24

Ballot Description: Expands the provisions of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and creates the California Privacy Protection Agency to implement and enforce the CCPA.

Background: On the face of it, this data privacy-themed ballot proposal, the brainchild of San Francisco millionaire Alastair Mactaggart, seems innocuous enough. It would strengthen a 2018 law passed by the State Legislature (also backed by Mactaggart) by creating a new state agency to monitor how consumer data is collected and used by tech companies. So then why are so many organizations like ACLU and Public Citizen that would normally support this kind of a proposal urging voters to reject it? It turns out they tried to support this initiative but unsuccessfully sought to fix important flaws, including language that essentially allows rich individuals to purchase access to better privacy protection while allowing tech companies access to your data as soon as you leave the state, which is currently illegal in California. And instead of a simple setting on a computer, phone or other device that maintains privacy, Prop 24 would create a complicated system that consumers would have to regularly navigate in order to keep their data secure.

MJ Analysis: Consider the 3rd Law of Data Dynamics, which contends that information used for one purpose will ultimately be used for another. That rule of thumb and the failure of Prop 24’s author to seriously engage with organizations that are already advocating for greater privacy protection makes this a tough sell. NO

Prop 25

Ballot Description: Replaces cash bail with risk assessments for suspects awaiting trial.

Background: If passed, California would become the first state in the union to abolish the bail bond industry by replacing cash bail with an algorithm to determine how likely a person is to appear in court. The initiative has its roots in a 2018 law signed by then-Governor Jerry Brown that would have had the same result, but which succumbed to heavy opposition lobbying by bail bond companies.

MJ Analysis: Supporters of the cause point to the fact that cash bail has been notoriously punitive for low income citizens and people of color, resulting in many suspects remaining behind bars because of inability to raise bail. Opponents agree with many of these criticisms but complain that a risk-assessment algorithm system isn’t the right remedy. Until we come up with a better idea, Prop 25 promises to bring more fairness to the criminal justice system, not less. YES


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