The front-page picture in this week’s Malibu Times is of the protest rally downtown this past weekend—people who want California to reopen now protesting the closure orders. They are packed together, certainly less than six feet apart, many refusing to wear masks, and dramatically exercising their constitutional right to be incredibly stupid. I have no problem with people who insist on their right to perhaps kill themselves, but I do have a problem with someone who exposes someone standing next to him or her to catching what could be a very dangerous and sometimes fatal virus. What about that other person’s constitutional right to stay safe? Surveys show that 60-70 percent don’t want to open prematurely, but in our world, the screaming 30 percent too often carry the day; besides, they are louder and so much more photogenic. My solution is that the screaming minority should have to wear an “Open California Now” ID pin, so if they show up in a hospital emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms, the hospital staff has the right to put them on a gurney and wheel them into the parking lot behind the hospital and let them lie there while they exercise their constitutional right to die without exposing doctors, nurses and others to their virus. Let the medical people spend their time helping people who want to live. Somehow, many people have gotten themselves so fearful they are being victimized that they can’t tell the difference between exercising their constitutional rights and behaving irrationally. You may have a constitutional right to cross the street but it’s still kind of stupid to step out in front of a moving 18-wheeler to prove you can exercise that right. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.
The box score on COVID-19 in the USA to date is 1,230,000 confirmed cases, with 163,000 cases recovered (about 13 percent recovery) and 71,532 dead (about 5.8 percent have died). I guess, if you’re an optimist, you might say that if you catch it, the odds are 2 to 1 that you’re still going to live. Frankly, I’m more of a pessimist—and not that much of a gambler. Besides, they keep saying the older folks are more vulnerable, which I’m sure means anyone at least five years older than me. The president’s pushing the states to open up society and (to him), even more importantly, to open the economy. November keeps getting closer and a failing economy would probably mean death for his re-election chances. If we open now, the estimated loss of human life (currently at 71,532) would probably double to maybe 150,000 deaths. If they can keep the deaths under 150,000, he’ll probably succeed in opening the economy. If, alternatively, we get a second wave of virus and it breaks through the ceiling, he’s again in big political trouble. That’s one of the reasons Trump keeps pushing up the ceiling for deaths, is to leave himself some flexibility to claim victory downstream. In any event, it’s going to be months before we return to anything near normal and it’s making us all a bit crazy because it’s so hard to plan ahead.
We finally had a bit of good news this week: The eagle has finally landed and we received the federal bailout/rescue money, that is, the PPP (payroll protection program). It provides small business two-and-a-half times the monthly payroll and they actually give you a check. It’s actually a one percent loan with a forgiveness clause, meaning you have to spend up to 75 percent on payroll and are allowed the other 25 percent for certain expenses. If you meet the rules, the entire PPP loan is forgiven. The problem is that the rules are sort of one-size-fits-all and the rules don’t fit very well with the way a local newspaper operates, but we’ll do our best. If we parse the money out slowly and that, combined with the dollars from some of you for donations and subscriptions, for which we are eternally grateful, we’ll make it through May and June. Thereafter will depend on how quickly the economy comes back and how leanly we can operate. Every small business in the country is probably doing the same kind of calculations. We lucked out and got our PPP dollars because this time around they decided to start distributing with the smaller businesses and the smaller banks. It’s also pretty clear that the small business PPP dollars are going to run out fairly quickly and a lot of people are not going to get the government bucks. As I recall, they already funded the original $350 billion and then added an additional $485 billion so it’s headed for a trillion. The overall price tag on this COVID-19 event is looking to be about $3 trillion, maybe more. It’s money our government has borrowed, in the main from us the taxpayers, which in time will have to be paid back, I think. Frankly, economics was never my strong subject, so if any of you business people or economists out there can explain the debt, and if and how we pay it back, and what impact the debt has on us and future generations, I sure would appreciate a guest editorial or two.
Editor's note: This column's headline was edited to correct a typing error.