Listen to the Short Frenchman with the Hand in His Waistcoat!

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Whether the author of “An Army marches on its stomach” was Napoleon Bonaparte, Frederick the Great of Prussia, or Claudius Galen, chief physician to the Roman army, somebody with military knowledge and common sense did say it. The proverb’s origin can be debated, and although it’s not in our Declaration of Independence its “truth is self-evident” and timeless; without bodily sustenance, a military unit cannot function efficiently. Nor can a nation, although North Korea and other Asian countries have survived on much less food than we do.

And although I’m hesitant to raise the specter, in America today any discussion of stomachs brings up the unsightly picture of an over the belt presidential Gut, or the “oracle of the digestive system” as he employs it in addition to processing Wimpy Burgers in honor of his decision making inability replacing the old long-bearded sage on a mountain in Greece thereabouts who’s dithering responses were confusing to all who heard them. And remaining with the importance of a stomach to marching, an army platoon might be able to march a few miles burning calories from the pendulous Trumpian Gut after a hearty meal of Big Macs with cheese, double fries, and quarts of diet coke.

There are other connections between Napoleon and the Donald but first to the point of this blog. Well, even if not first, second or possibly third, but at least we finally arrived there.

In January of 2020, beyond providing adequate epidemiological needs for first-line workers in the medical professions, a competent federal government would also have recognized the importance of grocery workers and pharmacy employees to the nation and provided a plethora of masks, sneeze guards, and whatever else was needed to insure an unbroken food and drug supply. I’m sure nothing of the sort has ever crossed the president’s mind or his Gut. Trump’s only real concern remains moving the stock market back to its recent highs.

His indifference to ordinary American workers and the needs of our citizens has been and is still appalling. Grocery stores have responded with banner headlines on their websites displaying current shopping information, answers to frequently asked questions, and an abundance of updates on store services for patrons. This information has been personalized by signatures of managers or owners in ways that convey an honest interest in customers as well as preserving the stores viability in the community and its bottom line. But honest efforts to deal with the crisis are obvious as well as real concern for patrons. Tones never sounded from the People’s House or its resident buffoon

How much of the two-trillion dollar “stimulus package” do you think has been targeted for assistance to grocery store workers.” Any? Democrats have pushed for more funding for all workers over corporations, but the details of the tentative agreement between the two parties aren’t readily available.

Considering the crucial importance for every American, other than White House residents who don’t need to consider such plebeian needs as foods and other items from previously well stocked aisles, you would have hoped the president, and at least a few senators and house representatives, would have noticed just how valuable grocery store workers are during the days of Covid-19.

Consider also just how important checkout clerks, shelf-stockers, butchers, information providers, shift supervisors, and other store employees are to ordinary American citizens. Yesterday, one of the major media players had an article from a grocery shelf-stocker appealing for civility from the shopping public. Not surprisingly, a few over stressed shoppers have abused store employees for problems far beyond their control — or for that matter that of the store owner or manager.

From limited experience, but experience that has likely been replicated by other major grocery chains other than the one we patronized, I’ve learned how well they’ve planned around and through supply problems including item shortages and distribution problems. Although grocery market employees aren’t in virus infected hospitals, nursing homes, and other establishments requiring “front line” assistance from doctors and nurses, along with modern pharmacies grocery workers provide essential services we without which we could not exist normally.

In this way, the pandemic has put grocery-store stockers and cashiers in an impossible situation. The country can’t simply shut down grocery stores. Along with pharmacies, they’re an important lifeline for homebound Americans. But even essential shopping can endanger low-paid workers who are not trained in pandemic preparedness and have little choice but to show up for work.

To mitigate this threat, grocery stores workers have asked for face masks, but haven’t been able to procure them because there’s a national shortage and the first priority for them is health-care workers. Grocery store worker’s unions are asking for the government to consider grocery-store workers on par with first responders, which might give them access to masks and gloves. These needs shouldn’t require prioritization because both groups, and others, should be provided needed protections to keep the last stops on the nations food supply chain functioning to meet consumer needs.

The major responsibility for the atrocious indifference to national planning lies with the Trump White House who covered up what they knew about the probable deadliness of coronavirus for three months beginning in the middle of January 2020 when Human Services and CDC personnel began meeting secretly to discuss what they already knew to be a serious epidemiological threat to our nation. But instead of planning for needed supplies and equipment and distribution networks to deliver these needs, their focus was on covering up the coronavirus’s inevitably and downplaying its threat to America. The president was obsessed with minimizing the national virus infections for as long as possible. A really stupid quid pro quo to gain a few weeks of relative political calm while giving in return three months of valuable preparation time to counter an imminent threat to the nation.

It would not have been too soon to activate the Defense Production Act mandating manufacturing changes from widgets and fidgets to masks and respirators and other medical needs. Trump finally signed the act, but has delayed pulling the trigger to activate it in an overabundance of caution against offending any of his base of support among manufacturers — leaving it up to individual CEOs to make the hard decisions that likely their stockholders would oppose. A typical example of Trump’s inability to make difficult decisions.

In the stimulus negotiations between republicans and Democrats, republicans as usual were protecting corporate profits after corporations spent millions from Trump’s 2017 tax cut on stock buybacks instead of for personnel and planning for the future. The airlines would have loved the freedom to do as they preferred with funds received rather than cover pilots, stewards, and mechanics lost wages from low flight usage by the public, and republicans would have been happy to give them millions restriction free. Democrats wanted Congressional oversight of stimulus spending.

Although the prologue of past incompetence seems again to be the present and future when it comes to presidential leadership and planning for an uncertain future, it can be changed if enough voters make it clear that our real needs take precedence over the president’s political aspirations.

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David L. Cattanach

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