The text of this tweet says all that is necessary to describe the video and the woman who is its subject.
OK, yes, it's just an ad. But still... I mean, the wonderful Rick Moranis has been in self-imposed semi-retirement and off the big screen for 24 years! That's 24 years. He made the Ghostbuster films, all the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies, Parenthood, Spaceballs, The Flintstones movies, the Little Shop of Horrors musical, SCTV and more, But he chose to raise his family, and it just went on from there. He's done a bit of voiceover work during that period on TV and for games, though that's pretty much it. He also reported to be finally making a movie with Josh Gad that brings back the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise, but the pandemic has put that on hold. He's basically been off the big screen for a quarter of a century just because he chose to. And no, this is not the big screen. And yes, it's just an ad. But...but still...
I guess it helps when a fellow-Canadian is a big star and a really huge fan. And owns the company.
Plus it's charming and funny. They did it right.
Yesterday, there was an article in Politico that got a great deal of attention, titled "The general election scenario that Democrats are dreading." The piece concerned comments made by Jason Furman, who was a major economist in the Obama administration, serving at one point as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. During a Zoom conference of economists and former Cabinet secretaries, he said -- "We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country." As Furman said later in an interview, "Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken”
The article here by Ryan Lizza and Daniel Lippman notes that "Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever."
A friend sent me the article, understandable concerned, especially since the article asks Furman about the level of concern among top party officials, and he replied, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”
As I told him, first and foremost, I think it's good for Democrats to take nothing for granted, and to be concerned by everything when it comes to the election. Not only including this, but especially this.
I'm also not an economist, so zero of my opinions have any substantive meaning..
I know too that accomplished as Jason Furman is, he is only one economist, and the article points out that all the other economists on the Zoom discussion were stunned by what he said.
And it's notable too that the only people agreeing with him in the article are those in the Trump administration, including Happy Talk economic adviser Kevin Hassett (who on Sunday referred to the public as "Human capital stock," along with Larry "We have the coronavirus contained" Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro, about whom Mother Jones wrote --
"Dubbed 'Trump’s looniest economic adviser' by the Wall Street–focused Dealbreaker, Navarro is an academic who famously made up a fake expert to quote in his books. A five-time failed political candidate in San Diego, Navarro is widely known there 'as a nut,' says one veteran California GOP political consultant. Navarro’s views on trade are considered so fringy that, for years, reporters covering him have been trying unsuccessfully to find a credible source who may agree with him."
Not being an economist myself, my reaction is that this scenario postulated by Mr. Furman is ridiculous and the article only slightest touches on the counter-argument and leaves out some massive points that go far beyond economy as deal with other aspects of the real world.
Most notable is that the article focuses only on money and leaves out -- 100,000 Americans are dead. Right now. That we know of. And that it will probably go to at least 150,000 dead Americans. And even if the economy comes back, they aren't.
It also quotes Mr. Furman saying emphatically, though it seems awfully glibly that the economic bounce back “can be very very fast, because people go back to their original job, they get called back from furlough, you put the lights back on in your business" -- while only later in the article does it eventually note that many businesses actually went bankrupt, and there won't be jobs to go back to. And moreover that many businesses will be downsizing, so no jobs there either. And it doesn't ever mention a critical point -- you can give someone a job, and turn the lights on, and open the doors...but that doesn't mean customers will come rushing back. And according to numerous polls, between 60-70% of the public says that they won't until there is a vaccine distributed to everyone -- which at the very best won't be for a year.
Also, the article buries near the end that Jason Furman off-handedly says, "If there’s a second wave of the virus and a really serious set of lockdowns, I wouldn’t expect to see this. But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out.” But the thing is, he's an economist, not is a scientist -- so saying, "But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out" is as totally meaningless as me not being an economist. Less so perhaps because most every actual science expert says that there pretty much ALWAYS is a second wave, and that it can be more virulent than the first. And we're already seeing numbers go up from the recent small-numbers of business openings. It's hard for me to imagine based on all these experts and the numbers we've already seen that there won't be a second wave -- which even Furman says would not allow the recovery he's predicting.
So, the reporters wrote a very long article about the one economist who says it will be a great turnaround, but bury even deeper Austin Goolsbee -- who was Furman's predecessor as President Obama's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors -- saying, "I view it as Trump left the door open and five rats came into the kitchen and you’re going to brag, ‘Look I got two of the rats out?’ There’s a high risk you look completely out of touch if you still have double-digit unemployment rates.”
And it leaves out one other huge thing.
Last night on MSNBC, they had a well-regarded journalist who has written extensively about pandemics. She said that life won't begin returning to something like normal for at least THREE YEARS at a minimum. And Jason Furman thinks everything will be great for Republicans because the economy will be booming in a few months.
Forget for a moment viewing Trump's re-election from purely an economic analytic model. Let's take a step back and look at real world that model exists in.
There will likely be at least 150,000 Americans dead that we know of. Each of those people are mourned by immediate family, relatives, friends and associates. We already know of 1.7 million Americans who were infected, so far. Business went bankrupt and aren't returning. Companies are cutting back. About 60-70% of people say they won't go back to stores and restaurants until there is a vaccine for everyone and it's safe. And life will not be anything even remotely close to normal. Sports arenas aren't going to be packed with 60,000 fans by October. Even if teams begin playing, it will be in empty stadiums. And the related concessionaire industries will suffer. People won't be crowding into movie houses or stageplay theaters. Who knows when they've even be ready to again start making movies and TV shows. The crushed travel and hospitality industry that lost $800 billion is not going to pack airplanes, fill up hotels and load up cruise ships. Seriously?? Even putting fear of the virus aside, most people pummeled by job loss will likely be saving their money rather than take leisure trips. Businesses will use teleconferencing platforms rather than send executives around the country -- let alone to conventions. Further, the public knows Trump still recommended taking bleach and disinfectant, still said COVID-19 would be gone like a "miracle" in February, still shut down the Pandemic Response Unit two years ago, still cut $8.5 billion from the CDC, still ignored the Obama Transition pandemic playbook, still fired the CDC expert on infectious disease IN CHINA last June, and his level of trust is in the mid-30s. And all that's even if there isn't a second wave, which according to science experts, there's no reason to believe that there won't be. And Jason Furman is saying Trump and Republicans will be in great shape because stores will be opening very fast, very fast. Because apparently that's all it's about. The human capital stock.
There is a quip about economists. It's that an economist is someone who sees something happen in reality but doubts that it can happen in theory.
I don't know. I'm not an economist. Of course an expert like Jason Furman could be right. And it's good for Democrats to be wary about everything. Good that their concern over this is "high -- high, high, high, high." Concern about everything when it comes to Trump should be high. High, high.
But Austan Goolsby is an expert, too. And was Jason's Furman's predecessor. And all the other experts on the conference call were shocked by his statement.
Furthermore, an article in yesterday's Raw Story addresses reaction to the article and explains --
"A report from Politico caused a stir on Tuesday morning, as it quoted Democratic economists and operatives who were nervous that President Donald Trump could benefit from a rapid economic recovery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"However, polling experts Nate Silver and Harry Enten both poured cold water on the notion that a V-shaped recovery would be sufficient enough to lift the president above former Vice President Joe Biden, who has consistently led him in polls throughout the year.
"Enten pointed out that Trump has for the entire year led Biden in polling on who is more trusted to handle the economy — but it hasn’t mattered, as voters in polls still said they preferred the former vice president to the incumbent overall."
And that's a critical point overlooked by Jason Furman's analysis -- perhaps the most-critical point: that Joe Biden has been leading Trump ever since he got into the race, and that's with the economy rolling along okay and with the public saying they trust him more on the economy! Now add in the 150,000 dead, bankrupt businesses and still not vaccine to return life to normal...which likely won't happen for at least three years.
Additionally, the article also references Nate Silver's observation that even if the current unemployment rate is cut by by six percentage points by the election, it would still Trump with a poor economy.
“It’s true that a partial recovery to 9% would be better for Trump than getting stuck at 15%,” Silver wrote. “But 9% is still quite high, and voters could also compare to 3.5% or wherever it had been before… The best strategy is therefore to use a broad basket of economic indicators over a broad range of time horizons. By that measure, voters’ assessments of the economy would likely still be fairly negative on balance by November even with a halfway recovery.”
(You can read the full article here.)
Honestly, of course I don't know how any of this will work out. I could be totally wrong. I'm not an economist. And it's not only good but critically important that people are concerned about this and about everything with the election.
And by the way, I hope the economy comes roaring back in full by the election. And that everyone gets their jobs back, all 42 million. And that there's a vaccine available in months. And that all the deaths stop as soon as humanly possible. This is a ghoulish real world we are living in -- not just in the United States, but all over the entire globe. I want the disaster over and resolved. I want the real world back to to normal.
But even if there is no second wave, which is considered probable to near-certain -- until it's pointed out why all these other reasons of real life I've mentioned and what all the other economic experts and science experts are saying is wrong and without meaning, and recognizing that Biden was ahead of Trump before the pandemic, then I think it's best to pay attention to Jason Furman, be wary of his analysis, and understand that the real world situation for Trump is truly horrific.
Economic theory and even economic reality are only a part of the real world. And the fullness of the real world plays a profound role in how human beings respond to pretty much everything.
And even if there is no second wave and many of the 42 million jobs lost come back, the real world where people live -- that "human capital stock" as Trump economic adviser quaintly put it -- will still be a deeply troubled place. Caused by Trump repeatedly cutting all manner of pandemic response and ignoring all warnings, certain instead that it would be gone like a "miracle." Helped by taking bleach and disinfectants.
And all the while, Trump played golf on Memorial Day as deaths neared 100,000, while Rome burned. Because even little things like that not only actually matter to "human capital stock" in the real world, but they remember them for what such little things signifies..
I could be wrong. So could all the other economic and science experts. I'm not an expert in any of those fields. So, I could be totally wrong. And them, too.
The thing is, the real world, where we all live -- it's a funny old place.
For all the stories about businesses opening, the ones that have seemed to get the most attention are about restaurants. And I understand that. Their impact on both the economy and our culture are profound, arguably more than any industry -- not just for the food and all the people and related-businesses they support financially, but also the sheer social aspect of the dining experience. So, I get it. And I'm pleased that, unlike most businesses that are closed, restaurants at least have the option of continuing to operate by developing take-out business. It doesn't compensate for the loss of sit-down customers, but it's something, which is more than most can say.
This all came to mind yesterday when I got an email from IHOP. (Yes, I'm on their mailing list because I get free pancake offers from them a couple times a year -- on my birthday and the anniversary of then I signed up with them). It explained all the measures they're taking to make sure their restaurants are clean and safe.
And the efforts they're taking seem to be the same that stories all explain the lengths that other restaurants are taking to make their places safe.
Still, as much as I admire the efforts and as much as I hope restaurants can open and swarm with business, because I love restaurants (One of my first jobs was working for a Burger King, which my mother would generally call, "King Burger." I used to be a very teensy investor in a restaurant in Los Angeles. I've written lovingly three or four times about a restaurant, Charlie Beinlich's, near where I grew up outside Chicago. I still have fond memories as a very little kid being excited to take occasional family trips about 20 minutes to Des Plaines to go to this new, little place which turned out to be the very first franchise ever for McDonalds.)
But as much as I love restaurants and hope they survive and thrive -- and as much as they're making great efforts to keep their places clean and safe -- I wouldn't even consider going to one until there is a vaccine, and most people have been inoculated.
And from stories I've read, I get the sense that most customers feel the same.
I appreciate that they'll be disinfecting the chairs after each customer. And be extra special cleaving the plates and silverware. And only have single-serve ketchup and mustard packs. And that they'll keep patrons separated at their tables to reduce capacity. And waiters will wear masks. And there will be hand sanitizer on tables. And many restaurants will have single-use plastic utensils. And single use paper menus. And...
Seriously, knowing all these efforts being taken to keep a restaurant safe, does that give you the idea that maybe restaurants have a safety issue that requires all of these steps? And isn't there just a gnawing thought in the back of your mind that every restaurant is not going to all these steps every time without slipping up? (We all expect slip-ups in life, including in restaurants. When the the result of that mistake is the possibility of death, they're a little less acceptable.)
But let's even say that every restaurants takes all these safety measures and even more, and handle them all perfectly, ever time.
There are still other problems with a restaurant that are just inherently built into the experience.
Like -- will people be wearing face masks? If yes, which I'd think would be the case, that would seem to make it incredibly difficult to eat. And if no, to facilitate the eating process...isn't that a huge danger-warning light glaring on-and-off??! After all, if "no," they'd be taking all these many steps for safety -- but leaving out the one requirement that has become pretty standard. So, neither option makes much sense. Or the fact that a large part of the dining experience is relaxing and socializing -- but the longer you're in an enclosed place, socializing, the greater the chance of viruses being spread through the air. And you're sitting at a table, just a few feet away from your dining companion, everyone talking, talking and talking. (Which brings up again the previous question of wearing face masks.)
And the thing is, the problems are just as great from the restaurant side of the coin. To open up your restaurant, there are costs involved with that -- staff, electricity, gas, maintenance, security, insurance and more. But even at best, it would seem likely that business will be down 70%. On the positive side, if you're doing take-out, then some of those costs are already being paid. But not all, or most. It might well be much more cost-effective to stay closed until you know for absolutely certain it's safe.
Which brings up probably the biggest caveat. If your staff screws up just once, and a customer gets sick, but worse, dies -- that's not only a tragedy, but a disaster for your business. Most restaurants probably couldn't come back from that. And if that one person gets sick...it seems likely that it won't be limited to just one. So, the question for restaurant owners is whether to risk opening as they no doubt desperately want, or play it safe for yourself, your staff, your customers and your future.
I love restaurants. I can't wait for them to open. I can't wait for it to be safe enough for them to open where all those safety requirements aren't needed.
But until that latter happens, I have a hard time seeing going out to dine. And I suspect that's the case for most people.
The other day, a woman got very upset at Costco for not allowing her in one of their stores because of their requirement that customers much wear a face mask. She was so bothered, that she wrote about her great displeasure on the Costco Facebook page.
Instead of posting the Tweet, I've taken a couple of screenshots and edited them together. That's because not only was their response to her very polite and brilliant, but it provoked a reply from someone else, and the Costco follow-up response was a polite gem, as well.
Personally, I think that the person handling the Costco Facebook page deserves a raise. My biggest hope, though, is that the person doesn't get fired.
When Trump was that he was pushing states to re-open their businesses, and Georgia was one of the first to announce they'd be doing so, I wrote here and on social media that as understandable outraged and concerned as most people were, I thought that one important point was being overlooked -- that just because a store opens for business doesn't mean customers will show up. And further, knowing that people weren't likely to show up in big enough numbers, many stores may not even open,
I got a bunch of responses on Twitter and Facebook that they were sure Trump loyalists would come out in droves because that's the kind of people they were. But I said that it just didn't seem likely to me. Even if all the 20% who are Trump cultists went out to stores, that's disastrous for a business. Imagine, for instance, that you owned a business and your customer base plummeted to 20% of what it was the day before. (Yes, that's more people than the zero before -- but before, the store was closed, there was no salaries to pay, no electricity costs, no security or maintenance costs. The day you open, all those costs are back.)
It turns out that...well many stores didn't even open, and for those that did, customers were scare.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a couple of articles on the subject. One of them is titled, "Shelter-in-place order ends, but most malls don't open." But the more notable article was headlined, "Large metro Atlanta malls reopen, but customers are scarce."
Among the passages which stand out are --
"At Lenox [mall], just a handful of cars sat in the parking decks and lots Monday afternoon. Few customers were inside and security guards were stationed at entrances to hand out gloves and masks. Phipps [mall] felt almost like a ghost town..."
The article continued, "At the Mall of Georgia, most of the shops that did choose to open were devoid of customers."
You can read the whole thing here.
On the one hand, I don't think this was at all unexpected, despite most of the press ignoring this reality when "re-opening business" was the topic discussed. On the other hand, even a paltry turnout is dangerous -- not just because it only takes one person infected to start spreading a deadly virus, but always because it send a terrible message to the public, that "the end is in sight," so you can be more lax in your mitigation safety efforts.
Still, it's a slam in the fact to Trump and the lackey GOP governors who thought opening their states for business was a really great thing, and a cool way to suck up to Trump's favor and get on his good side. What they ignored are two things --
First, Trump doesn't have a good side. And second, most people don't want to die.
As readers of these pages know, I'm a huge fan of Tom Paxton, winner of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, among many other honors. And even got to meet with the good fellow a couple of times, and got a lovely email from him after writing a column about him on the Huffington Post. So, it was a real surprise and treat when I saw a TV ad the other day that used one of his classic songs, "What Did You Learn in School Today?"
The ad was for Frontier Communications. And as pleased as I was to see one of his songs in the ad, it was also completely taken aback at home they edited it, to entirely change the meaning of the song 180-degrees.
More on that in a moment, first here's the ad.
Now, yes, it's a cheery song, and Paxton has written numerous children's songs, including the well-known "The Marvelous Toy" that Peter, Paul & Mary had a popular recording of.
But this is not a children's song. In fact, that's an almost hilarious bitter irony here in that the point of the song is proven by what the ad did. The point of the song, which was written in 1963 just as the United States had gotten involved in the Vietnam War -- and was first introduced by Pete Seger -- is to warn against believing everything you're told by authorities. That authorities sometimes leave out important facts, sometimes lie, sometimes tell you the very opposite of what the reality is, so learn what the truth is, think for yourself.
That Frontier Communication took this song with that point, moved lyrics around (to the degree that they don't even rhyme), and cut out all the dripping sarcasm, and turned it into an "All is well, authorities are always our friends!" is just too, too precious. And teeth-gnashing.
The one good thing from it, though, is that I suspect a lot of people will seek out the song online and hear the real thing.
Here's the real thing --
And just as a fun bonus, here are some updated lyrics that Tom Paxton wrote for the song -- and that he wrote these in 2010, not last year (or arguably even two weeks ago), is especially prescient of the guy,
Chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen are remarkable. They are currently serving over 160,000 free meals per day in the U.S. and Spain. And they just made a new commitment to buy one million meals from small, local restaurants -- providing them with work. WCK will then deliver those meals to families, seniors, frontline healthcare workers and more. You can read more about it here.
By the way, Chef Andres will be interviewed on "60 MINUTES" tonight. I assume he'll be talking about all this.
I've donated to World Central Kitchen for several years now. I first became aware of Chef Andres after he shut down plans to open a restaurant in the new Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. after Trump had made racist comments about Mexicans when running for president. The Trump Organization sued, and Andres (who is Spanish) counter-sued, saying that Trump's remarks made it impossible to hire any Mexicans for the staff. The two parties eventually reached a settlement two years later.
Anyway, for those who might interested in donating to World Central Kitchen, the link for it is here.
On this week’s Al Franken Podcast, his guest is Austan Goolsbee, the former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. As Franken notes, he “speaks with clarity and common sense about how virus economics are different than normal economics.”
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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