Category Archives: Stephen Golub

BENICIA AUTHOR STEPHEN GOLUB: Springsteen, Faith and Looking Up in 2022

Springsteen, Faith and Looking Up in 2022

Facing the storms ahead.

Happy New Year?

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

If you haven’t yet rung in 2022 by seeing the Netflix film Don’t Look Up, consider doing so asap.

Directed, co-produced and co-written by Adam McKay, who also gave us The Big Short and Vice, it’s an over-the-top, hilarious, heartbreaking and bang on critique of our times…in a giant-comet-is-going-to-smash-into-the-earth-and-wipe-out-humanity sort of way.

Some summaries of the movie call it an attack on climate change denialism. True enough.

But it’s also about Trump, politics, pop culture, social media, commercial media, Covid, corporate greed, Silicon Valley and Americans. Its brilliance flows partly from the fact that so many scenes are both ridiculous and realistic.

Despite my praise for Don’t Look Up, the point of this post is not to pull the plug on hope. Quite the contrary. Yes, we can’t deny the many exhausting, daunting messes we’re in, simultaneously skewered and spotlit by the flick. But let’s take all that as a starting rather than end point for how we respond to them.

Which brings us to Springsteen

You need not be a Bruce Springsteen fan to appreciate that some of his music rings true these days. I named this blog after one such song, “The Promised Land,” for that reason.

I’ve probably seen him play the song in about 20 concerts over the years. But back in 2002, at his Tacoma Dome show, it hit me harder than ever. The anthem’s refrain, “And I believe in a promised land,” punched with particular power in an America still reeling from 9/11.

Twenty years later, these lyrics from the song are also hitting home:

Well there’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor

I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm

Gonna be a twister to blow everything down

That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground

For years, I mistakenly thought Bruce sang “strength” rather than “faith” in that verse’s closing line. But I now see how faith makes much more sense. So much of his music is about that. Not blind or religious faith. But faith in the face of death, denial and despair. Without it, we lose track of life, truth and hope.

Which brings us to 2022

A year ago, we said good riddance to 2020, with the notion that 2021 would be much better. A demagogue had been defeated. His insurrectionist mob shocked us. But January 6 seemed like something temporarily rabid, rather than the reflection of machinations we now know to be far more systematic, sustained and sinister.

Even as recently as the hopeful, halcyon days of last July, “only” 250 Americans were dying daily from Covid (as opposed to five times that today). We assumed so many folks would welcome vaccinations that we might achieve herd immunity and pulverize the pandemic. We imagined that, come 2022, America could pretty much leave Covid behind, that we could face life without facemasks.

July now seems like ages ago.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the challenges ahead. But choosing despair is no choice at all.

Which brings us back to faith

From Covid to democracy to weather to whatever, 2022 will be a tempestuous year for the United States and the world. I’ll discuss details, as well as some rays of hope, in posts to come.

For now, I’ll leave it at this: Whether we can stand our ground in the face of America’s coming storms could well hinge on our retaining or regaining faith.

Faith in ourselves. Faith in the power of looking up rather than down. And perhaps most of all, faith in the promise of this land.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia Author Stephen Golub: From 9/11/01 to 9/11/21

From 9/11/01 to 9/11/21

By Stephen Golub, A Promised Land, September 11, 2021

2001: United Flight #93 terrorists’ attempted attack on the Capitol, foiled by heroic passengers acting together.
2021: Insurrectionists’ successful seizure of the Capitol, egged on by a demagogue tearing us apart.

2001: Terrorists from abroad, determined to destroy our way of life.
2021: Terrorists from here at home, determined to do the same thing.

2001: The day after the attacks, an empty sky, devoid of both planes and faith.
2021: A virtual sky, filled by vitriolic, disinformation-spewing social media.

2001: An attack driven not just by violent religious radicalism, but by the notion that the attackers’ faith, beliefs, people and tribe are better than others’.
2021: A cancerous, home-grown tribalism fueled by resentment of the racial, ethnic, political and geographic “other.”

2001: America united.
2021: America asunder.

2001: Freedom defined in terms of democracy, humanity, commonality.
2021: Freedom defined as Me First, Screw You.

2001: Decrying the sickness underlying the attacks.
2021: Suffering through both a literal plague and a sickness that prioritizes selfishness.

2001: We have met the enemy, and they’re half a world away.
2021: We have met the enemy, and they are some of us.

But let’s remember:

2001: An unprepared president not up to the job, who misled us into horrific misadventures abroad and an economic crash at home.
2021: A president, inevitably imperfect but defined by his humanity and wealth of experience, and easily overlooked recent and prospective victories such as the massive March 2021 American Rescue Plan, which among other things helped cut poverty nearly in half, with even better results for children.

More than the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2021. But for all our faults, America has always been about building and rebuilding a less imperfect union. True, sometimes it’s one step up and two steps back. But sometimes it’s something far better.

Even as we look back with sadness, even as we contemplate the state of play today with wariness, we can still look ahead with some semblance of grit and hope.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia Author Stephen Golub: Our “Lucky Town”: Unvaccinated Americans Procrastinate and Protest, Unvaccinated Foreigners Perish

Today’s dominant delta variant is the 2020 version “on steroids.”

By Stephen Golub, A Promised Land, July 24, 2021

My Last Lecture

I taught courses on law and international development at Berkeley Law School and elsewhere for quite a while. On the last day of class each year, I’d end with what I considered my “lucky” lecture to the students. It went something like this:

Among other things, I hope that this semester you’ve learned something more than what you knew before about how unfortunate many people in the world are, about the inequities or deprivation they face. I hope you also appreciate how lucky you are, and that, going forward, you find ways of giving back.

No doubt, many or most of you have had major disappointments or pain in your lives. And if you haven’t, you certainly will sooner or later.

But still, the very fact that you’re smart enough and lucky enough to make it to Berkeley Law means that you won the lottery. Whether out of some sense of justice, or faith, or thankfulness, or whatever, please consider ways of aiding the less fortunate as you pursue your careers and lives.

OK, it’s not the Gettysburg Address. But I hoped it resonated for at least some of the students, particularly since they’d shown an interest in the wider world by taking the course to begin with.


Lucky Us

Those providential sentiments are on my mind as I consider people blind to their blind luck. Specifically, so many Americans still refuse their nearly miraculous anti-Covid shots while so many people abroad perish for lack of them: perhaps four million in India alone, according to a recent study. It’s a kind of American exceptionalism, you could say.

As Bruce Springsteen wrote in a song that celebrated his community (that is, America), lamented what it had become and hoped for better days,  “Son, we’re lucky in this town, it’s a beautiful place to be born.”

We know that America the Beautiful is a myth for many Americans, given the racial, economic, gender and other injustices plaguing our society.

But we’re still lucky, compared to the billions around the world who scrape by on a dollar or two per day, or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or are brutalized by war, or lack even minimal control over their own lives…

Or don’t have any access to vaccines while so many Americans turn up their lucky, privileged noses at inoculation.

Some caveats: In some cases, the distrust of vaccines springs not just from Fox News propaganda or general anti-vaxxer wackiness, but from the medical profession’s historical mistreatment of Black Americans. For some folks, the hesitation isn’t political or historical; it instead reflects simple ignorance of the relative risks of the shots versus the contagion. Finally, it’s not just Americans displaying this attitude; many Europeans are as well.

Risks from the Shot Avoiders

Regardless, the impact of procrastination or even protests over vaccination remains. As does indifference to others’ wellbeing, including by otherwise caring persons. Because of course that avoidance or resistance doesn’t only put the unvaccinated in harm’s way:

  • As a former senior health adviser to President Biden put it, the delta variant is “the 2020 version of COVID-19 on steroids.”  With this much more contagious and possibly more virulent variant now dominant, the danger increases for the immunocompromised and for unvaccinated kids.
  • Large swaths of unvaccinated populations enhance the chances of vaccine-resistant variants emerging.
  • Even the vaccinated may face increased chances of falling ill. Fortunately, the risks remain extremely low for contracting severe cases of Covid if inoculated. But recent findings from Israel (so recent that their apparent conflict with previous research has not been resolved) suggest that Pfizer’s vaccine is not nearly as effective at preventing mild cases. And as one major medical center puts it, “Even a mild case of COVID-19 can come with some pretty miserable symptoms, including debilitating headaches, extreme fatigue and body aches that make it feel impossible to get comfortable.”
  • Vaccinated persons may contract Covid from the unvaccinated, remain asymptomatic and unknowingly spread it to immunocompromised persons or to kids.
  • There’s the looming question of whether even a vaccinated individual’s mild case can lead to “long Covid”: symptoms lasting for six months or longer.
  • Finally, our knowledge of Covid and vaccination remains in flux at this early stage (yes, in some ways it’s still early) of the pandemic. Certain risks I’ve listed here could prove minimal. Or they could prove more dangerous as we learn more – as that Israeli research may indicate – or as new variants emerge. There’s so much we just don’t know.

So what could all this add up to?

Three things:

Joy (or At Least Less Misery) to the World

We need massive and urgent action for the unwillingly unvaccinated across the globe. This can’t be said too often (which is why I’ve often said it): As both a humanitarian matter and a matter of self-interest, the United States should spearhead a campaign to vaccinate everyone in every country ASAP. True, there are some such efforts underway, most notably COVAX. But they are far from sufficient as to scope and speed.

It’s also true that the logistics of such an effort are daunting. But in its absence, many more millions may die.

For those Americans who can only see this in terms of, pardon the expression, America First, the proposed U.S.-instigated campaign would be in our own interest in at least a few ways. It would:

  • help limit mutations that yield vaccine-resistant virulent variants,
  • portray the United States as a beacon of help and hope in countless countries, and
  • mitigate potentially significant economic harm here and abroad.

A Shot in the Arm for the Unvaccinated

We can hope that most unvaccinated Americans will come to appreciate how lucky they are, how little it requires to accept a protective shot or two and how much it can mean to others for them to do so.

Even as I write this, though, I think to myself, “Good luck with that.” It’s time for increased policy responses – by  government, businesses and other institutions – that create more pressure to come around. Thankfully, such moves may be underway, though they clearly could take hold in some states than in others.

Questions for the Rest of Us

How do we deal with the unvaccinated? Simply accept that they see the world differently, as Democrats and Republicans sometimes do (though such acceptance has tailed off in recent years, given what’s become of the Republican Party)? Avoid the touchy issue entirely, just as some refrain from discussing politics with relatives who support Biden’s predecessor?

The matter becomes more problematic as it becomes more personal and immediate. It’s easier if we don’t know who’s gotten inoculated and who hasn’t, which is the case for most settings. Ignorance is a sort of bliss.

But what if we know folks who refuse vaccination?

To pick just one type of scenario: Should we invite unvaccinated relatives to weddings, parties or other events, even if outside, where people might be drinking, laughing, shouting and doing other things that could help spread the far more contagious delta variant? Make the invitation contingent on their getting the shots or providing proof of a negative Covid test?

Conversely, if invited, do we refuse to attend such an event if they’re there? Attend, but decline to sit near them or interact with them in such settings? Just accept the (slightly?) greater risks and the potential ripple effects of increased transmission? ­­

As one Florida vaccine hesitancy outreach coordinator (what a title!) recently put it, in advising on attending a large outdoor gathering where you don’t know if everyone is vaccinated (and presumably if you know some aren’t), it’s a good idea to don masks or remain socially distant: “[T]he delta variant has shown that it’s rampant and unforgiving in its ability to spread…When you talk about outdoor weddings and parks, I think physical distancing is still a good thing because an infected person may be asymptomatic.”

Fine. So how do you remain physically distant at a wedding party?

The fact that a large event is outdoors does not assure protection in these uncertain times. The experience of a recent Dutch music festival might shed some light. As an experiment, the organizers required that the 20,000 attendees prove beforehand that they were vaccinated, Covid-negative or recently recovered from Covid. Yet more than 1,000 tested positive afterwards.

Many more questions than answers here. Welcome to the far-from-Brave New World that the delta variant and the unvaccinated have helped create.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia Author Stephen Golub – A Tale of Two Covids…

The pandemic news is both wonderful and horrible.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

By Stephen Golub, A Promised Land, June 21, 2021

The Moonshot and the Bubble

Late last year, in discussing with me the rapid, successful development of anti-Covid vaccines, my cousin the doctor (and medical school professor, and very bright guy) – described the feat as a “moonshot.” I’d imagine others have also applied the term to that effort. But I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due for the first time I heard it used that way.

Indeed, the massively life-saving achievement merits the moniker. Just recall how grim the prospects seemed barely a year ago. A skeptical April 30, 2020 New York Times analysis dismissed the most optimistic predictions, of at least 12 to 18 months, as masking “a grim truth behind this rosy forecast…” It noted the inevitable steps and frequent missteps that make vaccine development typically a matter of many years rather than months – if it pans out at all.

In fact, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s trailblazing mRNA vaccines built on years of prior research, much of it government-funded. But churning out these medicines so quickly remains the equivalent of humanity landing on the moon. That so many of us are socializing, hugging and breathing so much easier right now seems miraculous.

We’re in a kind of bubble, though certainly one we should relish after a long, hard slog and not one that I’m predicting will burst. We’re not quite back to normal. But I’ll take quasi-normal over the thoroughly bizarre world that was 2020.

On June 15, California “reopened,” which means many though not all Covid restrictions have been relaxed. Here in the small, waterside city of Benicia, where I live, a new brewpub now welcomes patrons; it replaces a venerable café that closed during Covid. Tourists are tentatively returning to check out the local arts and gallery scenes. The other day, my wife and I gathered with some neighbors for bocce-and-wine for the first time in an awfully long time.

The city’s annual July 4 parade and fireworks remain canceled. But Benicia’s first Juneteenth celebration was a blast. The weekly Farmers’ Market has resumed, albeit with masks still required for the time being, as is (wisely) the case for going inside many businesses. Some folks still stroll down the main street masked – whether because they’re immunocompromised or out of simple, understandable caution.

At the same time, Benicia is part of Solano County, which has witnessed a slight rise in cases in recent days. As the indefatigable, heroic “Benicia Independent” blogger reminds us, after daily chronicling the pandemic’s course in the city and county for over a year, “COVID is still out there – TAKE CARE!”

In sum, it’s still weird and worrisome. But also oh so wonderful.

Meanwhile, Back on Planet Earth

Our bubble nonetheless floats amidst a world awash with Covid. While official tallies of daily death rates and total fatalities in India are “only” 1,200 and 390,000 respectively, these figures are probably vast undercounts. An accurate conservative estimate would double those Indian numbers; the actual fatality total there could even be over four million and climbing. Meanwhile, Brazil’s official death count has now topped 500,000, second only to 600,000 in the United States. (We’re Number One.) But, as in India and other nations, both of those figures likely underestimate the true tolls. We actually could be pushing one million deaths in America alone.

The picture in many other parts of the globe is also daunting. With less than one percent of its population vaccinated, Africa is experiencing a surge of cases; 22 countries reported increases of 20 percent last week. Peru may have the worst per capita mortality rate in the world, while parts of East and Southeast Asia that dodged the Covid bullet earlier on are reeling now. Though they remain in better shape than many other countries, there have been troubling outbreaks in Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and especially Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of the Delta variant, originally identified in India and more transmissible and dangerous than the original virus strain, grows both abroad and at home. This comes even as the fully vaccinated rates remain below 35 percent in several, mainly southern states. While fully vaccinated folks thankfully are at very low risk from this mutation, the protection drops substantially for those who have only had their first jabs from the two-shot regimens.

Those of us living in relatively inoculated states and nations occupy not only geographically privileged places. We also may be living in temporal bubbles (admittedly a Star Trekkish term) as well. With the Delta and potentially other variants’ rates rising, and so many Americans remaining unvaccinated, we could see a spike in deaths as those mutations spread and when autumn and winter force more people indoors.

It’s tempting to shrug our shoulders and leave willingly unvaccinated Americans to their self-selected fates, even as each illness and death is a tragedy. But exposure to unvaccinated Americans puts immunocompromised people, kids who can’t get shots and other populations in substantially greater danger, as well as slightly increasing risks for the inoculated.

Another Moonshot

Against this backdrop, late last month the leaders of the World Bank, the World Health Organization and other institutions called for a crash program to increase vaccine supply and distribution, so as to vaccinate the globe as fast as possible. The subsequent pledge of President Biden and other world leaders to donate a billion doses to poorer nations falls far short of satisfying that need. It’s been justifiably criticized by the WHO and other authorities.

The pledge is disappointing as a humanitarian, economic and even self-interested matter. The longer Covid rages around the world, the greater the chance that vaccine-resistant variants can arise, threatening us all. It’s true that one of the miracles of mRNA technology is that it can be adapted to neutralize new variants. But untold human and financial prices could be paid before that happens.

In other words, we need that crash program. We need another moonshot.

One closing thought for the unvaccinated (and the rest of us) in the United States: If there was ever a time for Americans to appreciate what we may take for granted and what people elsewhere would practically die for – and are literally dying without – this is it.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.