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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Overcoming COVID requires More than Rioting and Ignorant Ranting

 By Peter Toll

Back in 1999, a client in my financial practice was concerned. Over the years, between buying and stock splits, she had accumulated nearly $400,000 in Intel stock. It dominated her modest portfolio dramatically. In financial jargon, the portfolio was very lopsided; it needed balance to protect it against big sudden swings in the market.

She first went to her Uncle Fred who had first suggested she buy Intel some years back. Fred advised her to hang on. The stock’s huge run-up, in his view, would just keep going and going, making her richer and richer.

A medical professional, she was used to working with people more trained and experienced in what they were talking about. While Uncle Fred was good at some stock picking, his overall investment understanding and knowledge were minimal at best. Her concern brought her to me.

What to do? I proposed taking the Intel profit and reducing her holdings there some 75 per cent. Putting the money into a broader range of stocks and bonds would better fit her age, income and risk tolerance. She’d think about it, she said. 

After talking to Uncle Fred again, she told me she’d decided to hold on to her Intel stock. “There’s a certain risk,” she acknowledged, “but I feel the stock will continue doing well.” 

Eight days later the tech bubble burst, and her $400,000 in Intel became $87,000. She went with her gut and intuition and not the facts of market history (the Dow had done a similarly sudden but broader crash 15 years earlier, for example.) Her wholly self-made retirement plan was in ruins.

Today’s uncertainty and disappointment grounded in “no facts, please,” are plaguing our body politic. Add arrogance and selfishness, and the result borders on dangerous in a worldwide pandemic. 

We’ve seen in it Trump’s White House, we’ve seen it in the Arizona Statehouse where Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has flaunted the CDC’s COVID guidelines, and we’ve seen it locally in some elected “leaders” (Tootie Smith) who openly defy and challenge Gov. Kate Brown’s difficult but necessary decisions to protect our citizenry.
This is the same crowd of riotous thugs that storms our state capital to specifically and dramatically aims their anger and ignorance directly at what they feel is the source of their problems—an overreaching government and legislature that have disappointed and hurt them, their values, their way of life.

These same well-meaning folks are also putting up signs on rural roadsides calling for impeachment of Gov. Brown for putting an economic stranglehold on Oregon while their leader, President Trump, wants the opposite. “The economy comes first” is a slogan reflecting his view.

Which of these COVID-driven policies work? Are there real data, hard facts behind Trump’s free-for-all approach and Gov. Brown’s clamp down on social gatherings?

Trump’s leadership has made the U.S. a most terrible place to avoid COVID. According to the World Health Organization, the country has more than 20 million cases in a population of 331,002,651. That means this country, which holds about 4% of the world’s population, has at least 20% of COVID cases. The USA’s shameful worst case count in the world is followed by India, Brazil, Russia and France. 
 
Clearly, Trump’s disastrous ineptitude and sloth have caused tens of thousands of American deaths. 
How about at the state level? The CDC reports the most populous state, California, has 97 cases per 100,000 population; it is the worst, followed by Tennessee at 92.9 cases, Arizona with 80 cases, Oklahoma with 68.8, and Alabama is fifth worst with 67.5 cases.

Oregon is doing dramatically better, almost five times better than California, close to four times better than Arizona, and nearly three times better than Alabama.

Of the 50 states, Oregon is near the very bottom, ranked 48th, at 23 cases per 100,00, a place where the low score is best. Only Hawaii with 7.5 cases and Vermont with 13.4 cases are in better shape than Oregon in anti-COVID effectiveness rankings. Washington is next at 23.8 cases per 100,000.

These may be bothersome facts to some people. While they do not include myriad other contributing causes (skin color, economic status, family culture, for example,) simple analysis shows Trump’s policy to look the other way and Kate Brown’s policy to get after it very strongly, is backed up by results. His is the world's worst, and hers is excellent.

Sorry, you Trump believers and thugs, the facts don’t support you. Oregon has one of the very best anti-COVID records in the country. Kate Brown should be praised and not attacked. Sure, she wants to see our Oregon working people happy and productive, but not at the cost of their lives.

Is it only government policy influencing us? A paramedic friend in West Linn puts it sadly but plainly: “If there’s one thing this year has taught us, it’s that Americans are staggeringly selfish. Not just like your meat-and-potatoes ‘don’t want to share’ selfish. This is total apocalyptic ‘I will let you die rather than inconvenience myself’ selfish.”

In other words, wear the damned mask.

Only by applying knowledge and science and hard facts can something as monstrous and horrifying as COVID be beaten. Railing at lawmakers, berating and ignoring scientists and suggesting political calamity and worse for our leadership are not only vain efforts but, just as with my “I like it where it is” client in 1999, they reveal a regrettable and self-destructive ignorance.

Our country and our state have a lot of work to do, starting with making a lot of us much less ignorant.