Part I • Published July 9
In mid-March, the world together faced an infectious and deadly disease in the COronaVIrus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and took unified and voluntary action to prevent the spread of the disease.
Weeks turned into months as the nation’s frontline workers faced an unknown disease while residents and businesses shut down to prevent spread.
Mental health issues swelled, and local and national officials wrestled with containment of the disease as we “flattened the curve.”
Businesses and families suffered economic losses, which became community losses. Business casualties are still to come following temporary economic stimulus from the federal and state governments.
The goodwill generated through a national effort to protect the most vulnerable gave way to a splintering of opinion about how to reopen the community and return to normal. There was no immediate control of COVID-19, nor would there be any vaccine soon. Living with the disease, and protecting against the spread, would be a long-term community problem to face together.
That was a difficult proposition all by itself, as statewide outbreaks varied from county to county, and as seen in SLO County, from city to city.
National media narratives presented alternative views of best practices in dealing with reopening or outbreaks, as communities like SLO County dealt with vastly different statistics and problems than New York, Los Angeles, or even Santa Barbara.
Online discussions became toxic as narratives gained political footholds and sharing of information became a game of offense and defense.
Protests began around the country, and the extremes acutely galvanized. National media pandered to the narratives and fed appetites seeking reinforcement of their points of view — from conspiracy theories to fear-driven hypotheses of massive death rates.
It was already discouraging before the first days of anarchical chaos that reigned over Minneapolis following the public murder of George Floyd.
Instead of continuing the proactive march toward restoring the economy and protecting our most vulnerable, mass gatherings and willful ignorance of physical distancing broke out in cities and states that now face spiking cases and record COVID-19 rates.
Despite the danger of COVID-19 spread, which was already reported responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths nationally, hundreds of thousands of people broke out in crowds to protest police violence, which was responsible for 999 deaths in all of 2019 (according to The Washington Post Fatal Force 2019), and only 55 people who were notably unarmed. COVID-19 deaths accounted for an average of 55 deaths per hour in May.
Media outlets published cautionary statistics regarding the death toll and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in underprivileged communities.
Looking back over the past eight weeks since economies began opening, any small increase in COVID-19 cases was a referendum on counties opening “too early.” But rates remained within reason, until the first week of June following protests, which were clearly violating any physical distancing guidelines.
Our local County Health Officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, impressed that masks were no substitute for distancing. But in the aftermath of many protests, the contact tracing reports intentionally and openly ignored the attendance of patients at protests.
Despite the disinterest of health departments to document attendance at protests and rallies, the statistics narrate a clear story. Multiple weeks of reopening the economy resulted in no observable rise in COVID-19 cases, while 10 days after protests where thousands gathered set off a chain reaction that led to record numbers around the country and in our own SLO County.
Before the protests in San Luis Obispo in June, where thousands gathered, Paso Robles stood as a county outlier that could not get COVID-19 under control. It was home to more than half the County cases, and continually produced higher-than-average numbers. It singlehandedly threatened the entire County reopening plans as its numbers exceeded the state requirements for reopening the whole Phase 2 until the State relaxed requirements again.
Coincidentally, Paso Robles has taken a back seat a couple of weeks after protests. The City of San Luis Obispo is now our area’s reigning COVID-19 champion week-for-week, with Nipomo chasing close behind.
As with the national narrative, bars and restaurants are largely blamed, but many had been serving food for more than a month before the spike we now see.
South Florida, Texas, and Arizona were noted as hotspots for COVID-19 rises, but tracking the opening of economies, COVID-19 rates, and the emergence of protests — which in Arizona and Florida continued daily for weeks — surges in numbers followed a 10-day pattern after mass public protests.
Local media has ignored the lack of social distancing during protests while shaming beachgoers over Memorial Day weekend with images that made them look closer than they were. Stories that note the increase in COVID-19 cases have used headline references to the economy opening instead of acknowledging the hundreds and thousands of people who marched shoulder-to-shoulder in protest. Update: On Friday, July 31, Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted before Congress that all gatherings are vectors for spread of the virus — after two months of denial that gathering in protests are vectors — and added that “crowding” is a leading cause for spread, with a footnote “particularly when you are not wearing a mast [sic].”
As we followed the statistics of COVID-19, our newspaper was diligent in collecting real data, presenting it in realtime, and providing a realistic narrative to help our community cope with the facts.
We have not stopped doing so, even following the chaos of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s botched reopening execution, and the belligerent narratives and destructive challenges presented by national news outlets.
It is sad. I’m truly confused and discouraged. At the same time, I’m inspired and choosing to be resolute. We are not being served — by our local or national leaders nor by our local and national news agencies. We face an egregious betrayal of trust.
Without even getting into theories of biased narratives and intentional misinformation, the bare facts present an indictment regarding the prioritization of lives and community health. Absolutely no social injustice claimed the number of lives or threatened community physical or economic health and future at the rate attributed to COVID-19. Every tragedy and every threat deserves appropriate recognition.
While the rage behind the death of George Floyd subsides, so does our COVID-19 rate. While state governors make decisions about whether the COVID-19 case counts demand the shutting down of local economies, the actual positive test rates decline ahead of those decisions — as the dust of protests settles.
I’m all for making a statement. Here’s mine. 1) Murder is murder. They should all be investigated as a violation of our inalienable rights. No badge should provide protection from investigation. 2) Freedom shall not be infringed, so long as the exercise of that freedom does not infringe on other Peoples’ inalienable rights. 3) Pursuit of Happiness shall not be infringed, so long as it does not infringe upon others. We now have nearly 8 billion people on the planet. Our constitution provides for a foundation for us to get along and prosper. If our elected officials, including city and county officials, are inadequate to uphold the law of the land, We the People are provided that right. If our leaders are inadequate to lead, We the People must find new leadership.
Make no mistake, the President of the United States has responsibility, but our Constitution calls for states to act for the good of its citizens where the federal government is not mandated (see the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Newsom has proven an utter failure as a leader following an impressive start to his management of the pandemic. From the point he dismissed County-level authority for reopening guidance, and the egregious mismanagement of protests that led to reports of insurmountable COVID-19 case increases, he lost.
Our County leaders seem to be overwhelmed without ordained authority and a paralyzing conflict of mixed messages from every corner, but they better figure it out.
We flattened the curve as a nation — and other countries have as well — and we know and understand the virus. We know that the residents of San Luis Obispo County have been exceptional in managing the spread of COVID-19 prior to protests. We know that dramatic increases in COVID-19 occurred in the weeks following protests and have already seen declines.
The media needs a reckoning. Elected officials need a reckoning. The police and justice system needs a reckoning. But we have a public and economic health crisis to reckon with first.
In the words of some great human beings — all problems matter when pandemic problems matter. We have to deal with the house on fire first. Burning down the rest of the neighborhood is not synonymous with equality.
Part II • Published July 16
Greetings readers, and welcome to the second installment of “The House on Fire” series. We live in interesting times. Our new world of information and user-generated content (social media) has given rise to monolithic inhabitants that now occupy our daily world.
One of the good things is that more information is readily available. One of the challenging things is that information can now be weaponized or politicized on a massive enough scale as to drown out alternative points of view.
Last week, I introduced a perspective facts continue to support. The nationwide surge in coronavirus cases follow a 10-day pattern uptick after the onset of nationwide mass gatherings that continued for consecutive days or weeks. With few exceptions, we are now witnessing a “flattening of the curve” in many states that pre-empt any economic shutdowns. Texas, Arizona, and California are such, with Florida being an exception currently. I found all protests for any reason during the pandemic to be without justification as we face a larger “house on fire.” Our COVID-19 challenge has been as much about the economy as it has been about health. Those who know the relationship between poverty and crime understand without further ado.
I co-opted the “house on fire” analogy used to justify arguments that ignore the fact that more lighter-skinned humans are killed by police than any other category. In 2019, there were 999 humans killed by police. On May 27, 1,379 humans were registered as death-by-coronavirus in one day. If there is an argument about houses on fire, the issue of police killing is Marvis Frazier and COVID-19 is Mike Tyson. It’s over in 30 seconds. On average, 1,000 humans per day are claimed as coronavirus victims since March 1.
In 20,000 incorporated cities, according to The Washington Post, unarmed, not-fleeing citizens were killed by police once every 11.5 days on average in 2019. We should talk about it.
Unarmed, not-fleeing citizens who are listed as “Black” were killed every 91 days in 2019, and those considered “White” were killed every 19 days. We should talk about it.
Last weekend, Chicago added 11 homicides to more than 350 this year so far — about two per day. We should talk about it.
Chicago police recovered 5,100 illegal guns in 2020 so far, an average of 26 per day in one city. Who volunteers to go collect illegal guns from the streets of Chicago? Raise your hand. We should talk about it.
If there is a house on fire, somewhere in the world, we should care. As Americans, we do that. We care. We also have leaders in each state dedicated and responsible for their states, counties and cities. If you can help them, go help them.
Our lives — as Americans, as Californians, and as residents of San Luis Obispo County — are improved through cooperation and unified efforts. Our lives are harmed by division and violence against our nation — whether foreign or domestic. We should talk about it.
I have a motto to “Think globally, act locally.” What can I do to make my own community safer and a better place for my 5- and 7-year old to grow up and govern? What issues affect us here, while other places have other issues?
Since July 1, five members of SLO County are listed as COVID-19 deaths.
Right now, we face a surge in coronavirus, and a string of related deaths. We should all know by now that two of the recent five “coronavirus deaths” were people over 90 years old. The average life expectancy in California is 80.8 years.
COVID-19 is a contributor to illness and death, so wash your hands, keep distance, and wear a mask when necessary, but don’t get too carried away.
We’ve dealt with coronavirus for four months now. As county, we’ve been exceptional when it comes to an effort as a community to flatten the curve and control the spread.
Since launching the “Resilience Roadmap” in early May, Governor Newsom has proven to be incompetent in managing California (prior to, he was decent). His broad brush reopening plan proved impotent as it tried to apply the same criteria to Los Angeles County and San Luis Obispo County. He has not gotten any better. He either does not care, or does not know.
That is where our local leaders in the State Assembly, SLO County or our cities are responsible.
We all play our part and those that chose to take on elected positions are required to work for us.
I call on our local leaders to form a coalition to protect the interests of our county residents and businesses — demand control be returned to our local leaders to administer adequate protection and support of our interests both social and economic.
We are not being served by our governor, and we cannot afford as a country, state, or county to relinquish our rights to protect ourselves and our interests. We are constitutionally equipped with the tools to renegotiate terms and our local leaders need to step up.
When we have issues, or “houses on fire,” we have people in place to take action.
If you are a business owner or concerned citizen who would like to join a coalition to present a fair and public demand on our local leaders for action to protect our interests, please email email@example.com. There will be no Facebook group.
Part III • Published July 23
Most readers will know that I’ve followed the outbreak of COVID-19 closely, and since the week we had to re-evaluate our staff and make strategic cuts as did most businesses as the economy came to a grinding halt. As an essential service, we remained open and found our way without any emergency funding for the first 12 weeks of the sheltering.
During that time, governments, societies, and the medical community studied the novel coronavirus as we patiently waited for information to develop. It was about the 10-week mark that most areas in the United States got the virus under control, or “bent the curve,” as it were. From there, serious discussion centered around what opening the economy and public spaces might look like.
We followed the conversation and the data daily and hourly. My concern was not over the temporary health of the community, but over our community effort to face the issue as a collective. The virus is not as deadly as it was feared to be — although it has proven to be unpleasant for many, others like myself were asymptomatic. We were challenged with fear, and government intervention. Our best foot forward as a nation has always been behind leadership, and together.
I watched and presented the COVID-19 facts as best I could, but there was a deepening distrust in information and a load of misinterpretations, as well as mixed messages from top health officials.
If you need a clip of the “top” official Dr. Fauci saying something to support your personal views, you can find it because his statements are laughably contradictory.
We are in the midst of a war of information and the soldiers are our own neighbors and friends.
If you have been paying attention to this “House on Fire” column over the past few weeks, you know I predicted a flattening of the curve that will precede the closing of the economy. The data bears this out nationally, in our state, and in our county that pre-empts any efforts to close businesses.
Headlines from national media, including many outlets I would have said three months ago were credible, have driven a false narrative that has attempted to persuade instead of inform.
Our own headlines noted record increases and I’m embarrassed that our message is misconstrued. Record increases in COVID-19 cases is not actually a concern. Unlike other media outlets, we have continued to inform that the only concern is hospitalizations and deaths. Our county has been exceptional in controlling the spread, but our numbers are still being used against us.
Over the past week, the governor continued his farcical leadership with mandates to close. I am on record that Dr. Penny Borenstein and Wade Horton are far superior in leading our county that Newsom has proven, and that Newsom endangers our county, its residents, and its economy with his decisions.
The same facts that mattered in March matter today. The purpose of slowing the spread is to maintain hospital capacity and prevent unnecessary death. Despite higher testing and higher case counts, the death rate remains low in most places. No state or county today faces anything close to the disaster that was New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and other northeastern states.
At one point, six northeastern states with 18% of the population had 62% of COVID-19 related deaths. The percentages haven’t changed much, but Florida’s Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino is doing his part to increase Florida’s death count. Last week, his office placed a motorcycle fatality on its COVID-19 death count, arguing that “it could have been the COVID-19 that caused him to crash.”
Arizona death rates have fallen to levels that should make every warmblooded human feel good, and its case rates and hospital capacities are stabilizing — Arizona reported as many as 73 deaths, on July 7, and deaths fell consistently from there to only two on July 20 (azdhs.gov).
States across the nation are finding stability, with Florida an outlier with the Miami area under strain. The X-factor? Reduction of mass gatherings in the streets. Anyone who supports protests before we see the end of COVID-19 danger supports virus spread and death of people in our nursing homes.
Human life has been politicized this year like no other time in history, and local responsibility has become more important than any other time in history. From transmittable disease, police accountability, economic stability, education choices, and local leadership as it relates to county, state, and national decisions, we are facing a new reality where we are forced to face ourselves, our past, and our future.
We shouldn’t fear the change we face, but we should embrace the opportunity. The communities of North SLO County are not responsible for COVID death rates in New York City or the police killings in Minneapolis. We are not responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles or Sacramento, and they are not responsible for the health of our local schools, nor should they be involved in decisions of whether we open those schools.
Our local leadership at the City and County levels may be more important today than at any time in our living history.
This is an exciting opportunity for change, but that change must be made with respect to all People for, by, and of whom our Constitution was made. Our more-perfect union is one that will always grow and change as we learn and relearn.
As media publishers, we have a privilege and responsibility to continue this conversation and protect the health and wellbeing of those alive today and tomorrow.
I look forward to having open conversations in our upcoming Our People’s Podcast where we dedicate time to discuss opposing views and improvements our community can make to form a “more perfect union.”
Part IV • Published July 30
This is the fourth and final installment of the “House on Fire” series, which is now published online in its entirety. During this series so far, I have asserted the following:
- The COVID-19 pandemic, which is overhyped, is far more important in 2020 than the societal danger of police misconduct including treatment of underprivileged citizens;
- Support for mass gatherings that violate social distancing guidelines while we manage the spread of COVID-19 is more dangerous to human life than all 800,000 active police;
- Mass gatherings, no matter the purpose, are a contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19 and in-part responsible for the economic shutdown of otherwise law-abiding businesses and family incomes;
- Bending the curve to preserve hospital capacity has been the highest priority since the outbreak, and fixation on positive case counts is a straw man fallacy;
- Media coverage continues failing to educate readers that hospital capacity, not positive test results, is the leading measurement of success;
- Spread of COVID-19 is a natural and healthy part of surviving the disease, and many people, like myself, contract the virus and their immune system defeats it without any visible symptoms;
- Supporting gatherings or interactions for specific political movements while condemning gatherings or interactions for other purposes is gross negligence by leadership and media;
- Local control and decision-making has proven superior in bending the curve and protecting the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the citizens of this county;
- The incompetent leadership by Gov. Gavin Newsom has led to increased spread of COVID-19 and harmful to the life and wellbeing of the citizens of California; the local leadership of SLO County officials Wade Horton and Dr. Penny Borenstein have proven superior to the decisions and actions by Newsom and information presented by Dr. Anthony Fauci;
- Newsom failed to respect local control in May and his decisions since result in a less-safe San Luis Obispo County;
- Our local community is responsible for maintaining its health and wellbeing in the face of multiple threats to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness; in no particular order, those threats include but are not limited to the pandemic, protests, vandalism, violence, mental health issues, economic hardship, police and justice system misconduct, corporate and political corruption, feelings, misshaped media narratives, attacks on patriotism, misinterpretations of the Bill of Rights, child, domestic and elder abuse, healthy food and water supply, and human and child sex trafficking; those are just a few of our issues, and other local issues deserve to be added to the list, but hopefully it is enough for a jumping-off point;
- The greatest threat to our freedom is to our unity — not unity of thought, but unity of purpose in protecting inalienable human rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all People of the United States;
The aforementioned assertions galvanized my philosophy as it pertains to government created by, for, and of human beings. Local control and decision-making being subservient to inalienable rights is the greatest form of government we have today.
We the People are responsible to continue the work of those that came before us — from national independence against monarchal tyranny, a civil war to end slavery against a Democratic-led south, the establishment of citizenship for all people, voting rights for all, the end of segregation in the Democratic-led south, to the continued advancement of rights, freedom and opportunity for people of all walks of life to achieve success. We the People continue to make strides together.
There are countless ideas floating around, and countless opinions on how to make our communities better, safer, and more agreeable to all parties involved.
I understand the frustration that comes from a feeling of powerlessness. I spent my entire adult life searching for answers for how to make my life work, or why wasn’t I happy. I revolutionized my life for my personal gain by becoming of service to others.
The United States has the longest-standing constitution in the world. The First Amendment protects the People against the infringement of religion, infringement against freedom of speech and the press, and infringement of the People’s right to peaceably assemble.
CNN’s Chris Cuomo now famously asked, “where does it say protests are supposed to be peaceful?” His industry is protected by the same First Amendment that protects peaceable assemblies, yet he is unaware of its text. This might be willful ignorance or simply he is uneducated, but being a national news anchor it is surprising either way.
I’ve seen countless posts online about “protests” or “right to overthrow the government” being a constitutional right. The constitution does not protect “protests” explicitly, and it is the Declaration of Independence that describes the process of dissolving the political bands which have connected groups of people. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of treason against the British government.
Those promoting actions that need to be justified or defended by the Declaration of Independence are indeed promoting treason against the government they are taking action against. I’m not condemning those calls for action, but people should know what they are doing, and what they are talking about. If you must, you must.
However, if such threats to the nation became legitimate, please take it from the great-grandson of a Union soldier that it would be much more intelligent to find a place to start a new country than to attempt to overthrow or take over the most successful country in all of history.
Right now, there is a house on fire. Trust me when I say that help is on the way to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all People and our posterity.
As of now, the United States is my country. California is my state. The American flag is my flag. The Star-Spangled Banner is my national anthem. They are all-inclusive, and have been through tougher times than these.
“In course of time, superior intelligence made its impress and established its dominion upon this continent. That intelligence, with an influence like that of the sun rising in the east and spreading its broad rays like a garment of light, gave life and gladness to the dark.” Joseph Hayne Rainey (1832-1887), former slave, South Carolina Congressman, and presiding officer of the House of Representatives.
Updated (November 8, 2021): This column was updated to remove the abbreviation for “where we go one we go all” and its association with the fringe conspiracy cult “QAnon.” At the time of authoring, the author did not associate the phrase with the conspiracy group and felt strongly that the advocation of leadership expressed by the phrase represented his views expressed in the article, similarly to the common phrase “As California goes, so goes the nation.” The author conveyed to the publisher that there is no relation of any ideas expressed in the column to any prevalent or fringe conspiracy theories.