The waves were up a bit today. The surfers were out and it looked almost like normalcy. The surfers told me that the beaches were not open but they just weren’t enforcing the empty ocean rule, so they were all going back out to ride their boards. There still is no parking near the beaches but that didn’t seem to slow the surfers down—not one bit. I saw them lugging their boards from long distances. I must confess, I never quite understood the attraction of jumping into a cold, very wet early morning ocean, and then calling that pleasure, but then I’m not a native Californian. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was a diving officer in the U.S. Navy but they paid me extra hazard duty pay for that, so my basic rule is that if I don’t get paid to go into the cold ocean, I’ll just hang around the pool, thank you. 

•••

The headline in the LA Times is “California still in the danger zone as the death toll keeps climbing” and it’s absolutely true. It’s going to keep climbing and more people are going to die, here and all over the country, and we’ll soon know if opening prematurely is worth the risk. The answer to that question is very personal. If the death is someone close to you or you yourself it certainly wasn’t worth the risk, but a stranger? That’s a different calculation. The odds of dying from the coronavirus for any particular individual are very small, probably less than that of being killed in a car accident. But just because the odds are small doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. In fact, we know that it will happen; we just don’t know to whom it will happen. We’ve already lost 80,000 or so to date, and that’s going to keep growing—maybe 150,000, maybe 200,000, maybe more. This is not just a statistical argument. The Chinese have just had a flareup in Wuhan and they are going about retesting everyone again. We don’t have that kind of testing ability, so for many areas reopening now it is a blind gamble.

••• 

The U.S. Department of Justice has just decided to drop the case against Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump. I can’t recall any case where the justice department decided to drop a case after a long-negotiated plea deal—to which the defendant has already pleaded guilty and for which he was about to be sentenced. That kind of thing happens in banana republics where there is no justice system, just a system of who has political influence. The first thing dictators always do is grab control of the police and the courts and use the courts and the justice system to prosecute their political enemies. It happens in all sorts of dictatorships all over the world but not in the United States, we thought. It’s happening here now. Watch, between now and election day they’re probably going to accuse and perhaps even indict some of the people involved in investigating Trump like Mueller or Comey or even try to go back into the Obama administration and try to get to some of their justice department or intelligence people. The whole thrust of the political attack is that there was and is a deep state thrust to destroy Trump’s presidency. Ultimately, Americans will have to decide who they believe when they cast their ballots in November. If Trump gets a second term, there will be no rules and I fear for the future of America.

•••

It is incredible how quickly things can turn around in our world. In January of 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom presented a budget for California that predicted a $6 billion surplus at the end of the budget year. Today, we’re looking at a $54 billion deficit at the end of the budget year. The state’s revenues are very sensitive to individual and corporate income taxes and capital gains taxes. They estimate now that income tax revenues will be down by 25 percent, which is not terribly surprising, considering we have been closed from March 15 or so to May 15, which is two full months, and the recovery is going to mean perhaps very slow months in June, July and August. Frankly, I’d be surprised if we are only down 25 percent, because, essentially, what we have is a nine-, eight- or seven-month year to measure against the previous year. That’s not just us. That’s the entire country and also a good part of the world. Locally, the hardest hit is going to be the school systems. They’re currently estimating they will lose $18 billion in state’s minimum funding so we can expect K-12, community college and state university systems are all going to take a major hit. Fortunately, in Malibu, our real estate base seems to be holding steady, and property taxes are the most stable kind of income for any government, so we are far less dependent of on things like the hotel transient occupancy taxes, which, of course, are way down all over the state. Even then, locally, this is going to require some major belt tightening.

••• 

Perhaps it’s premature but I’m trying to visualize how life is going to be different once we start up the country again. I’d guess that online conferencing through apps like Zoom are going to become a regular feature of our lives. The technology will certainly improve and be easier to use so there is going to be less business travel, less flights, less hotels. I can’t see large events, sports stadiums, concerts happening any time in the rest of 2020. Movie theaters are going to take a major hit and new movies may be released and streamed online. We’ve all seen our credit card bills go down because we are eating at home and many people are going to question going out to expensive restaurants as they have in the past. Ditto for bars. People are going to come to the offices less often because they are already getting used to working from home and, besides, it eliminates much of that travel time that can amount to two hours per day. Managing them is going to be a big problem because old habits will have to change. To sum it up: Our world is in flux and none of us knows where it will land. 

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