by Daryl Slusher

In recognition of this week’s Republican National Convention let’s briefly mark for history the confluence of events taking place in our country right now. Despite use of the past tense at the convention, when referring to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States remains mired in the grip of the pandemic, with more than 180,000 Americans dead from the virus. The federal government/Trump Administration still lacks a national strategy to fight the virus, or any kind of strategy. As President Trump put it recently when asked about the death count, “It is what it is.” 

One searing way to look at it is that the United States has less than five percent of the world’s population yet 25% of the world’s coronavirus cases, and 22% of the world’s deaths. 

Then there’s climate change, where, in statistics similar to the coronavirus, the US uses an inordinate amount of energy compared to its percentage of the world population. It also emits a corresponding amount of greenhouse gases. That, of course, is a major contributor to climate change — which Republicans reject as a hoax. Meanwhile, two hurricanes slammed into the Texas coast this week; actually one is only about to hit Texas and Louisiana as I write this.

Meanwhile California is locked in another record setting fire season, with two, or three (depending on your source), of the biggest fires they have ever experienced burning at the same time. The fires are caused, in the L.A. Times description, by a “rare mix of intense dry lightning and extreme heat.” The fires are also spawning fire tornados or firenados. Fire tornados, in the description of the Washington Post, are “genuine twisters made of smoke and flame.”

There is one place though where Republican leadership has (sort of) resulted in a drop in greenhouse gas emissions. That is international air travel and the reason is that Americans are denied entry into many countries around the world. That of course is because of our massive failure in handling the coronavirus. Countries banning visits from US residents, with a few rare exceptions include: all 27 member countries of the European Union; Japan; China; India; Russia; Australia; New Zealand; all of Africa except Tunisia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Egypt; all of South America except Ecuador and Brazil (great time to visit there); and Canada. 

Most of the countries allowing Americans have serious restrictions. For instance Costa Rica only allows Americans from six states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. Hey, what about Texas?

Here’s a little feedback for the countries not banning Americans right now; you’re being too nice.

Well, that is just a little of the backdrop as the Republican Party holds its convention this week, where they have already nominated Donald Trump for a second term. 

And, what does it say about our country that whenever someone mentions “decency” — as the Democrats did frequently at their convention last week — people on both sides of the political divide perceive it (accurately) as a not so veiled attack on the President of the United States? I’ll answer my own question; it says a lot. The Democrats were right to bring up decency so often, for several reasons; it is indeed an accurate attack on Trump; Joe Biden is a fundamentally decent human being; and, the view here is that, despite the very many critically important issues, the election really boils down to a referendum on human decency. If that’s not clear enough let me know and I’ll elaborate.

What does it say about our country that whenever someone mentions “decency” — as the Democrats did frequently at their convention last week — people on both sides of the political divide perceive it (accurately) as a not so veiled attack on the President of the United States?

Since I’m going on about decency, and because this is a family publication, I’m not going to get into this week’s news about Jerry Falwell Jr., his wife and the pool attendant — although the timing during the convention seemed really appropriate.

Speaking of decency though it is really a disgrace that City workers trying to enforce coronavirus limitations at parks and other facilities are being abused and harassed. Come on people. I say that’s where we need to call the cops. Also, thanks to the Statesman and several TV stations for running that story, and to Amanda Ross, Lucas Massie, and other PARD (Parks and Recreation Department) executives for standing up for their employees. As the Statesman summarized, “employees have been yelled or cursed at, pushed into a lake, threatened with weapons, punched and pushed to the ground.” Those yelling at them included world famous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a great role model for the rest of the folks engaging in that kind of behavior. 

Now, that we’re talking about City employees (full disclosure I’m a retired City employee) let’s give a shout out to all the public employees that keep the water flowing and the lights on; protect public safety; pick up the garbage, recycling, and compost. They’ve kept it all going during the pandemic. Special thanks go to the folks at Austin Public Health including Director Stephanie Hayden, Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, and Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette. These folks are working countless hours and going through the most epic challenge of their careers. And they are coming through for Austin.

Mayor Steve Adler has also been tireless and relentless in leading Austin during the pandemic. 

OK, just one more thing; yesterday I published what I tried to make a thoughtful (and long) article on the cuts to the police budget, including examining how different groups of folks might look at the issue, and how Texas Republicans are using the budget cuts as a campaign issue. Readers can determine for themselves how good or bad a job I did on that. The reason I bring it up here is to relate that a few hours after I got done I pulled up the Statesman website and saw that the Council is now considering rejecting federal and state grants awarded to the Police Department. 

I’m not going to get into the details here except for one. The Statesman reported that Mayor Pro Tem, and County Attorney-Elect, Delia Garza is considering voting against a “seating platform” for the police helicopter. According to backup materials for Thursday’s Council meeting, the item in question is “a multifunctional seating platform and rappel attachment for the Austin Police Department’s (APD) Air Support Unit to expand the role of the AS350 B3 helicopter to cover the entire Austin and Travis County area for emergencies.” The item would cost $88,000 with the federal government picking up $84,000 and $4,000 coming from the police department budget.  

According to the Statesman, Garza questioned the need for the item and summarized, “I’m just trying to understand the need, frankly.”

Well, I’m going to be frank here myself and say three things. One, that is an almost unimaginable level of micromanagement. Two, it just seems purely punitive.

And, three, Republicans are trying to paint a caricature of the Austin City Council as extreme, out of touch and potentially dangerous. Please don’t draw the picture for them. 


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