Privacy – ha-ha-ha-ha

One sidelight of the coronavirus pandemic is a warning about Alexa. Lawyers working at home are being advised to keep Amazon’s or Google’s voice assistants far away, or better yet, turned off during any phone conversations about client matters. Although the tech giants assure us that these devices don’t listen until they are awakened by “Okay Google” or other voice trigger, they have yet to explain how the devices respond to the voice stimulus if they are not listening. Voice assistants regularly come to life from mistaking spoken words for the woke word: “Seriously” is heard as “Siri.”

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Vignettes from the Pandemic

Palm Springs is overrun with rental cars that have nowhere to go. With the California governor’s shelter-in-place order in effect, tourists and snowbirds have headed home. Car rental companies do not have enough space to park all the returned vehicles. Automobiles line Kirk Douglas Way near Palm Springs International Airport. More are parked on Gene Autry Trail next to the Palm Springs Air Museum. The total rental fleet numbers about seven-thousand, most of them typically in use. Nearly all of them are now un-rented, many more than rental companies have space for.

The Group of Seven nations rejected a draft presented by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo using the term “Wuhan virus” in a joint statement about Covid-19. Pompeo also wanted the statement to assign blame to China for the virus’s spread. At a virtual meeting, the G7 voted six to one against issuing a joint statement. Instead, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada opted to issue their own statements.

A Pennsylvania women is undergoing mental health evaluation after being arrested for purposely coughing on produce, meat and baked goods in a grocery store. The Hanover Township Police Department plans to file criminal charges. Gerrity’s Supermarket, a small family-owned chain, said that it threw out $35,000 of food and stripped bare, sanitized and disinfected all the areas of the store that the woman visited. In New Jersey, a man was charged with harassment, obstructing law enforcement and making terroristic threats after intentionally coughing on a Wegmans grocery employee when she asked him to not stand so close to a display of prepared foods. He told the employee he was infected with coronavirus.

The Redding California Public Works Department dispatched employees on an urgent mission to remedy a backed-up sewer lift station. The clog put the station in imminent danger of a sewage spill onto city streets and overflow inside residents’ homes. The cause? Shredded t-shirts that had apparently been used in lieu of toilet paper. The next day city employees distributed door hangers throughout the neighborhood emphasizing that that nothing but toilet paper should be flushed. “Anything and everything is flushable, but it doesn’t mean that it’s OK to put it down the toilet.”

Annals of Secession

The appeal of seceding from the Union did not die at the end of the Civil War. (Note: the Confederacy lost.) Secession fantasies of leaving the U.S. to form a new country have morphed into schemes to form a new state — the “State of Jefferson” has been agitating for that since 1940 — or separating from one state and joining with another.

The latest is “Greater Idaho.” Denizens in the politically-conservative rural parts of Oregon are gathering petitions to remove themselves from the tyranny of the state’s Democrat-majority government and join with deep-red Idaho. Part of eastern Washington and northern California have joined eighteen Oregon counties in the effort. The proposed boundary for Oregon would be the northwest corner of the state: Portland to Eugene and from the Pacific coast to the east side of the Cascade mountains. Bend, apparently infested with Californians beyond redemption, would remain within Oregon, as would most of the people and economic activity.

The state of Washington suffers the same rural-urban resentment. Not long ago, aggrieved non-Seattle-area voters managed to get Initiative 976 on the ballot. If passed, it would cut funding for voter-approved transit projects in King County (Seattle). The irony is that King County taxpayers subsidize the rest of the state. A recent report documented that sixty-three cents of every tax dollar collected in King County is spent elsewhere. As a Seattle Times columnist put it, “The entire state is mooching off King County, not the other way around.

On the Federal level, more tax money flows into red states than they pay; blue states pay more tax than comes back into their states. Possibly more lately since the recent tax-cut legislation included provisions inflicting pain on states whose voters preferred Hillary to the current occupant of the White House.

Which brings us to the Cascadia Independence Movement. Various groups propose secession from two countries, the United Staes and Canada, to form the Republic of Cascadia. The new nation, comprising British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and maybe northern California — possibly some of Idaho and Alberta — is based on the idea that as its own sovereign state this bioregion and economic sector would do better on its own. The eastern border might be somewhere between the Cascades and the Continental Divide.

The urban-rural, conservative-progressive, subsidizer-moocher, gun lover-weapons regulator dichotomies are not directly addressed in the various manifestos, though.

Americans Respond to Crisis

Sure, store shelves have been denuded by panic buying of toilet paper, bottled water and pasta.

But in the U.S. anxious citizens are lining up to buy guns and ammunition because… well, because this is America. (News reports have not noted any concurrent surge of people signing up to join a well-regulated militia.)

Travel — Not So Broadening

Coronavirus has upset the travel industry. Fear of disease has resulted in restrictions on travel into the United States. Guess what — already fewer foreign travelers were coming to the U.S.

Traveling around the world has been increasing… prior to pandemic angst. Nearly one-and-a-half-billion people traveled internationally in 2019, six-percent more than the year before. But almost two-percent-fewer people visited the U.S. The number of visitors from China is down more than five percent since the advent of trade wars. The Chinese government has also warned its citizens about American gun violence and robberies.

The ever-changing list of travel restrictions has made entering the U.S. more difficult for everyone. An attorney at an international law firm specializing in U.S. immigration put it thusly: “Travelers must be ready for increasingly-hostile questioning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents about the nature of their travel and itinerary while in the U.S.” People entering the U.S. should expect to face “law enforcement” culture at the border. They should also be prepared to have their electronic devices and data on phones and laptops examined.

Business travelers particularly are avoiding trade shows, expos, conferences and in-person sales calls. Since the current occupant of the White House took office and issued travel restrictions, many have decided that the increased hassle and time required to enter the country are not worth it.

Fighting the Coronavirus

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continue to rise, two California politicians have differing advice to constituents.

Governor Gavin Newsom says that neighborhood bars and pubs should close their doors. He also urges Californians over the age of 65 to isolate themselves from others. “We need to anticipate spread, but we also need to prioritize our focus,” Newsom said.

Trump/Putin lickspittle Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that instead of panic buying and clearing shelves at supermarkets, people should instead visit their neighborhood pub. “It’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant,” according to Nunes. “Likely you can get in easily.”