Friday, May 1, 2020

 Well, we’re seeing the start of a new month in this Brave New World where it seems like April lasted forever. Six weeks into the coronavirus novel epidemic that’s sweeping the country and we’re not really all that closer to a “solution”, whatever that may be. A number of states are “reopening”, like it or not, partly because of AstroTurf protesters spurred by conservative organizations and companies fretting about the bottom line.

 But not Mississippi. Though we’d planned to reopen after April was up, the largest single-day spike in cases and deaths gave Gov. Tate Reeves pause. The governor had planned on more or less fully reopening the state starting the first of May, but we saw a jump of 397 cases and 20 deaths, bringing us up to 7, 212 cases and 281 deaths. So Reeves didn’t necessarily halt the reopening but he definitely pumped the brakes a bit.

“We cannot pretend this is over,” said Reeves. “It is not. The fight must go on. Why? — because we are facing a public health crisis. It is real, it is deadly.”

 To give credit where credit is due, after a shaky start, Reeves has done a better-than-expected job dealing with this problem, plus or minus some “who you know” corruption that’s almost to be expected. By hook or by crook, we are reopening, though. Things are just pushed back to May 11 unless something drastic happens. Most retail stores have been allowed to fully open, but public places and restaurants are going to have to wait a bit. Nothing’s been fully decided about schools, yet, but the idea is still reaching for August at worst or before the end of the school year at best.

 Our own particular bastions of sin, the casinos in Tunica and on the coast, may be allowed to reopen by Memorial Day. The decisions are being left up to the individual casino. Particularly in Tunica County, the casinos bring a whole lot to the economy and being closed since March definitely hasn’t helped anything. Twenty percent of the staff have been laid off. Not from the casinos, but from the county offices. The casino’s shuttering is figured to have cost the county $16 million in revenue. So, yeah, big deal.

 For the most part, we have avoided the “protests” that have popped up around the country, though Jackson did see some earlier in the week. I haven’t been able to find if any Trump-connected groups were behind these, and we’re not seeing the gun nuts or Nazi cosplayers like elsewhere. We still have the Confederate battle symbol on the state flag, so that’s a given. It is, however, the same bunch of people who have no idea what communism is, they just know they’re against it no matter how little sense they make.

 One thing that continues to baffle me about the “let us go back to work” argument is how much “work” is still going on. Wal-Mart and various grocery stores are open, the power and utility companies are still doing what they do, and closer to home, my uncle’s kept his carpet store open and someone in Amory is working on Momma’s Mule side-by-side. On the flipside, my cousin who works for a subsidiary of the Toyota plant in Blue Springs was supposed to go back to work today but was told it’d be another week after Gov. Reeves slowed things down.

 And things are tight for folks. Look, it’s no question that the shut down has been a blow to the state’s economy, much less the country’s, a state as dirt poor as Mississippi can’t stand much. Over 62% of small businesses face the risk of permanent closure and though it’s doubtful the protesters really care, 71% of black families have enough assets to go too long without work.

 The state’s processed over 200,000 unemployment claims since the first reported case back in March. That being said, the unemployment rate hasn’t changed all that much from this time last year, 5.3 versus 4.9 in March 2019.  Then again, the various chicken plants throughout the state have remained open and, even better, the owners haven’t put much effort into protecting their workers after Trump declared meat plants “essential”. The industry relies quite a bit on undocumented labor, but found a sure-fire way to keep their employees from snitching about anything.

 So, life goes on in the Magnolia State, one way or another. A couple of interesting notes to the situation before we go. Issaquena County in the Delta, the poorest and least populated county in the state, still has no recorded cases of COVID-19 despite being surrounded by it on all sides. Linda Williams-Short, mayor of county seat Mayersville, noted the county’s agricultural nature worked in its favor.

“Social distancing is a norm for us,” she said. “We’re spread out pretty good, anyway.”

 The other is a brewing fight between Reeves and the State Legislature brewing down in Jackson. The argument concerns the $1.25 billion from the federal government as a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Reeves said it’s his discretion where the money goes. However, the mostly Republican Congress came back to work two weeks earlier to cut him off. The House passed the amended SB 2772, which moves $1.15 billion of the federal funds to the budget contingency fund where the money couldn’t be spent without legislative say-show. The remaining $100 million was left in a fund that could be accessed by state agencies should the need arise.

 Reeves had some sharp words for the legislature, accusing them of playing politics. However, the legislature – including Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Republican Speaker of the House Philip Gunn – told him to pound sand. The amended bill passed unanimously in the House and 79-2 in the Senate, with one voting present. Their argument is Reeves has had plenty of time to get stuff done and has diddled around too much.

 Now every state’s government has slight differences and most are unrecognizable if all you know is the Federal Government. That being said, Mississippi is a particularly nasty battleground and, to be quite honest, Reeves has never been all that popular. Even after a Trump Bump three days before the election, he beat his Democratic rival with the smallest margin since the state flipped parties. Things haven’t gotten better. Part of it is how blatantly he licks Trump’s boots to the detriment of the state he’s supposed to serve and part of it is the aforementioned insider corruption, or at least how sloppily he goes about it.

 But a lot of it is because he’s a sleazy asshole with a crappy attitude and way too much unwarranted arrogance. Reagan’s 11th Commandment holds no sway in Jackson, y’all, and pulling knives out of backs is a regular hobby at the Capitol. And people wonder why this state can’t crawl out of the ditch.

 Have a nice weekend.

 

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