Leadership Roles Go Through California

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Los Angelinos—I was briefly one in my early years—can recall complaints about the persistent smog blackening much of the air and getting into lungs. On bad days the city’s skyline is still shrouded in thick layers.

We are learning that this is but one manifestation of global climate changes along with environmental degradations that are having devastating effects worldwide.

Today we are experiencing two other pandemics each with the capability of delivering serious anatomical consequences.

One of course is the ongoing novel coronavirus which has already infected thousands of Californians that can trigger respiratory complications leading in the worst cases to death.

The second scourge burst on the scene with a dying black man in Minneapolis whose final words to a police officer now charged with murder were, “I can’t breathe,” as the oxygen drained out of his body.

These two assaults on human life getting daily headlines—one the result of an unforeseen animal transmission of a virulent disease, the other man-made— are now fully intertwined.

Together all three give rise to a need for scientific explanations and better understanding of the more pernicious aspects of human behavior. Ignoring them dooms our chances of restoring some semblance of normalcy to our daily lives.

Amidst the simultaneous disasters there are conflicting messages from the medical experts and a president with whom growing numbers of people according to latest polls is hopelessly out of touch.

In the midst of the pandemic the president is asking that the Supreme Court overturn the Obama Healthcare Act. That is not likely to sit well with millions of Californians who are benefitting.

Gavin Newsom was the first governor to issue stay-at-home-orders other than for essential activities way back in March when federal health authorities were still voicing assuring reports,

At the time, California had tallied 675 positive cases and 16 deaths. It has just reported 200,943 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5,803 deaths!

Just days ago, 8,000 new COVID-19 cases were recorded, the highest three-day total as the lethal bug resurges, with California joining Texas and Florida on a grim roll call of the most populous states appearing to be losing containment.

This represents an alarming 75% rise in daily cases in June!

Newsom is conducting a delicate balancing act which has increased testing significantly making the wearing of masks mandatory while trying to meet the growing calls to reopen businesses and public places. 

If the current trends continue, he said we may be forced to roll back on some business openings, though he will leave that decision to county public health officers.

President Trump meanwhile is encouraging people not to wear masks and to reduce testing citing it as the blame for the spiraling statistics behind the rampaging disease!

 “Slow the testing down please,” implored Trump at the Tulsa rally as the rise in that state’s infections was reaching an all-time high with six of his own Secret Service officers reportedly infected.

In the first presidential task force briefing in two months where Trump was conspicuously absent Vice President Mike Pence side-stepped a reporter’s question as to whether people should be wearing masks.

Until a reliable vaccine is mass-produced and distributed that can inoculate “at least 70% of the population” there is little possibility that the much sought after “herd immunity” can be achieved. 

The best scientific brains in the California’s top labs and research universities and around the nation and world are running round-the-clock experiments hoping to find the magic bullet. 

Even the rosiest predictions do not envision success before 2021 at the earliest. 

Newsom sees the realities on the ground declaring, “We have to recognize you can’t be in a permanent state where people are locked away for months and months on end to see lives and livelihoods completely destroyed without considering the health impact of these decisions as well.”

The catastrophic illness is thought to have originated in a species of bats found in caves and carrying the deadly pathogens. The bats were then brought by humans to an Asian market from which the lethal virus likely with the help of animal intermediaries then rapidly spread.

When the disease is finally conquered it will not be political puffing and delusional forecasts that turns the tide. It will be trustworthy science.

As horrendous as these revelations are it turns out they were only the prelude to worse news.

Barely two months after the virus outbreak California and nearly every other state was caught up in massive demonstrations protesting police brutality in the aftermath of the George Floyd slaying.

Racial bigotry—hardly a new phenomenon—accentuated in signs saying “Black Lives Matter” held up by mainly peaceful marchers throughout the Golden State and worldwide are now accompanied by other signs saying “store closed until further notice” as the virus began taking its mounting toll.

The two crisis drivers—one entirely humanly inspired, the other the result of confirmed origins not man-made–have combined along with a battered economy that will test the nation’s resilience to historic adversity.

The outrage over police lawlessness and the excessive use of force involving predominantly black and brown Americans has thrust California’s junior senator Kamala Harris back into the limelight.

Along with another black senator, New Jersey’s Corey Booker, she has co-authored legislation entitled the “Justice In Policing Act” intended to bring about dramatic police reforms. 

Predictably it has met with immediate resistance and Trump playing to enthusiastic supporters has said it has no chance of becoming law.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole black Republican in the chamber, has proposed a separate bill which has the blessing of the Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell. His support or lack thereof can make or break almost any piece of legislation. 

Harris and fellow Democrats in search of a bipartisan solution are urging that their recommendations which go farther than those of the GOP be at least put on the table for negotiation. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled that she is interested in compromise as is Los Angeles Representative, Karen Bass. Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy has been conspicuously silent.

So far the talks have gone nowhere.

Harris, a Judiciary Committee member who earned her spurs for blistering questioning of witnesses during both the Justice Kavanaugh and Trump impeachment hearings is a leading contender for the Vice Presidency in a Biden administration.

Her prospects for being chosen have increased considerably as the health emergency, blatant inequities in law enforcement and a seriously compromised system of criminal justice come under withering attack.

Looming for Californians and voters everywhere is a seminal presidential election only months away that will determine if, when and how we might emerge from the mounting chaos. 

California’s leaders could have a loud voice in the outcome. The voters will need to weigh both the scientific and human factors in making their decision.

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