Corncobs, and other observations

A scattershot version of The Long Version this week, as I need to balance a hectic travel schedule with pushing forward on my book.

So just a few observations, and a programming note for all of you in the Los Angeles area.

1. Lol Iowa

Iowa is a lovely state. I’ve visited twice to give talks at the university in Iowa City and once as a preteen to outrun a tornado in Dubuque. Let’s stop letting them screw up presidential politics.

The “first in the nation” caucuses started as a folksy experiment in response to the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was the opposite of that shitshow: polite, rural, and not visibly controlled by national party elites. It was also extremely, extremely white. It was a cute, easy thing for (mostly white) political reporters to go cover, as they still do today, yucking it up around small towns eager for their presence and pretending to not really like putting ranch dressing on pizza.

It’s dumb and destructive and needs to stop. Even before this year’s debacle, it was obscene for news organizations to spend their dwindling travel budgets ferrying political reporters to an undemocratic reality show whose only discernable effect is the amount of attention they give to it. The rules are confusing and the process is ripe for corruption (voting in public! in front of your neighbors! who yell at you to defect!).

It does not build confidence that the Democrats screwed it up so royally in a year when so much is at stake. It feeds directly into Trump’s authoritarian playbook: sowing discord among his opponents and distrust in democratic institutions.

But I have the solution: Ignore it. Ignore the ridiculous results, whenever they come in. Move on. Never do it again.

(And for the record, I’ve said this for years, and regardless of whoever ends up “winning” in the end.)

2. They’re all bad

Everyone’s favorite sensible Republicans have proven their worth again:

These are risible arguments: The idea that 63 million Americans who voted for Trump should count more than than the 66 million who voted for Hillary Clinton, or the 60 million (53%) who voted for a Democratic Congress to impeach him, or the 52 million (58%!) who voted for Democratic senators to remove him in 2018. The idea that holding a president accountable for his crimes would “disenfranchise” anyone. The use of the word “disenfranchise” to protect a president whose minions are reinstating Jim Crow.

And “the president has learned from this case?” I mean what do you even say to that.

Collins and Murkowski could have safely voted to convict, knowing that Trump would remain well shy of the two-thirds majority of senators needed to remove him from office. They’re either doing this because they’re too scared of their party to vote on principle, or because they truly believe the president is above the law. Either way, voters should take note. (And keep an eye on Mitt Romney.)

3. Wuhan Fever

Two months and three days after a new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, was identified in China’s Hubei province, experts still don’t have answers to the biggest questions in any epidemic: How lethal is it? Who gets it? And how fast does it spread through the environment?

The Chinese government’s rampant lying makes those questions impossible to answer. It’s all a question of math: If there are more cases than are being reported, then that could mean the virus is less lethal than has been feared. If they’re covering up deaths too, then the numbers could point the other way. The balance between those factors is called the “epidemiological triangle,” and without it, we don’t know where we stand.

But at least we can rest assured that our leaders are well-prepared for—lol, just kidding. Before Trump forced John Bolton out of the White House, in 2018, the mustachioed avenger fired the senior director for global health security on the National Security Council. It appears no one in the White House is coordinating a multiagency response. There are costs to having an incompetent criminal running the federal bureaucracy, and a lack of preparedness for a pandemic disaster is one of them.

In the meantime, all we can do is not panic. Panic has scuttled past epidemic responses. It stokes racism, fear, and other responses that do nothing to keep people safe.

If you want something more productive: Wash your hands, all day long. And get a flu shot. You’re still much more likely to get—and even die from—the seasonal flu than 2019-nCoV.

Bonus for SoCal readers!

Was good to see some of you last week in New York at the CUNY Graduate School. The remembrance of the Haiti earthquake continues this weekend in Claremont, Calif.

I’ll be appearing at Scripps College’s Haiti Earthquake 10th Anniversary Symposium this Saturday, Feb. 8. Other panelists at the two-day event include Brian Connanon and Yanick Lahens. And I’ll be signing copies of The Big Truck That Went By afterward. You can see a schedule here.

And wash your hands.

Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and author. His next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of America’s empire through the life of a legendary Marine, Smedley D. Butler. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.