Horse and Buggy on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee Horse and Buggy on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

A Report from the Bluff City – COVID 19 or COVID 1984

Hello this is Darrell Castle with today’s Castle Report. Today is Friday May 22, 2020,1 the Friday before Memorial Day. It’s the start of a three-day weekend when we are supposed to stop for a moment and remember the fallen. This is day 63 of house arrest for the Castle family, nine full weeks of full-fledged quarantine. The family daughter will spend Memorial Day weekend safe from the virus but unable to escape from a small island at the bottom of the world. For the Castle Family Memorial Day just might be the last day of house arrest. For we are all scheduled to return to the office on Tuesday.

A look at the Memphis experience

The lock-down response to the virus makes it virtually impossible to celebrate the day as usual. No solemn observance at the veterans’ cemetery which Joan and I usually attend. No family cookouts in the park with children playing while parents eat and talk. It is all very sad but is it necessary? We will look at that question on this Report today. I will base this report on what I can see and what I experience in my city each day, and on its people and its government. Memphis, Tennessee is more than likely representative of many other cities so most of us share the same experience.

Memphis prepared for…nothing

My county of Shelby contains the city of Memphis and several incorporated suburban communities. The total county population is about 1.6 million. One of the first things one might notice in Memphis are the preparations for an event that has not and probably will not happen. For the most part our mayor has done a good job considering his responsibilities. I would not want his job right now and that’s for sure. Let’s consider what he has dealt with and the results of his decisions.

Senior citizens, of course, but why non-seniors and children?

I’m certain of why my wife and I are socially distancing and quarantined in our homes. We both meet one or more of the risk categories that make us members of the vulnerable group. I’m not sure and I ask the question of why the children and grandchildren must be in quarantine. Why can’t the young go to work to feed their families and why can’t the young enjoy themselves? After all, isn’t there more to life than the mere avoidance of death, which is inevitable for all of us? Today we see only the obvious costs of the lockdown. We see the destroyed economy, unemployment soaring, destroyed businesses, marriage breakdowns, lives suspended and of course suicides. The worst will come later when the destruction of our currency hits us all.

Memphis converts an old newspaper building into a hospital…

The Memphis daily newspaper is The Commercial Appeal, which is still printed but is no longer housed in the gigantic building it occupied before the Internet killed print news. That building is now a massive 401 bed hospital for Covid-19 patients. The Army Corps of Engineers converted it into a hospital at a cost of more than $100 million. The Commercial Appeal headlines announced the transformation in glowing terms. The text explains the types of patients the hospital will care for. A picture appears of the Tennessee governor talking with a Major General from the Corps of Engineers, about the completion of his work.

…to house zero patients

The article admits that this hospital houses exactly zero patients. Authorities hope it will never house any. I have read through other sources to believe that hospital capacity in Memphis is less than 50% and ICU occupancy is less than that. Doctors have recently returned to performing non-emergency surgery, so I imagine the occupancy will increase. Will a single patient ever occupy the new hospital? Or will it just sit there, staffed and ready as a monument to over-reaction?

Wearing masks in Memphis: by what authority?

The virus and the reaction to it have caused other problems in Memphis as I imagine it has in most places. So far, the Shelby County Health Department has only encouraged the wearing of masks in public. Last Monday the Shelby County Commissioners urged the Health Department to make the wearing of masks in public mandatory. County Health Director Alisa Haushalter said her department would consider the request, but she is not opposed to making it a mandatory requirement. I wonder who gave the director of the health department such control and authority?

Alan Dershowitz, are we a democracy…

Constitutional attorney and former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz now says that we do not have a Constitutional right to refuse a mask or to refuse mandatory vaccination. He says that in a democracy the majority has a “right” to protect itself from someone with an infectious disease. No one who is a potential typhoid Mary has the right to run loose in the population. The government has the right under the police powers of the constitution to literally hold you down and stick a needle in your arm.

…or a republic?

In opposition to Mr. Dershowitz I will say that this is a Republic not a democracy. A democracy is in fact a socialist concept in that it is about the collective not the individual. In this republic minorities have rights that the majority cannot legally violate. The smallest minority is the individual, so individuals have rights that are sacrosanct from government intrusion. Suppose the majority decided it was in their best interest to return to Jim Crow laws? No that cannot legally happen because minorities, especially a minority of one, have rights. Therefore Mr. Dershowitz is dead wrong, and his logic is faulty.

Disrespect for the law

Apparently, the virus and all the new orders forcing people into their homes, if they are fortunate enough to have homes, has given even local governments the belief that their power to regulate and control our lives and our behavior has no limits. The Commissioners said that the intent is to avoid a spike while we reopen. I have yet to see the what if question answered for this order. What if someone or more likely a lot of some ones refuse to comply? Will they order armed police to enforce the order? Will the police comply, or will they simply ignore it? It all serves to foster disrespect and disregard for the law.

Memphis has an overdose problem

Another story from the front pages of the Commercial Appeal concerning my city’s response to real and potential effects of Covid-19 concerns the death rate. Local and statewide “safer at home” orders began in Mid-March and since that time 700 Shelby County residents have overdosed on narcotics with one hundred and two deaths. Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter said, “We’ve experienced more deaths from overdoses than Covid-19.” She joined County Attorney Amy Weirich and U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant for a joint press conference. They promised resources for those battling addiction. They also promised punishment for those that ensure the chain of supply of narcotics remains intact.

No one will shut everyone in for overdoses – but overdoses began with the virus lockdown

I seriously doubt anyone will spend more than $100 million on a hospital with a purpose to save overdose victims with said hospital sitting empty forever. I doubt that authorities will order everyone to close their business and stay inside for months at a time by reason of this catastrophic event. The uptick in overdose deaths is “unprecedented,” Haushalter said. The rise in overdoses and fatal overdoses has reached record breaking levels. Overdose deaths began to rise around the same time as the stay at home orders, county records show. Once again, we see that the chosen cure is killing more than the disease.

By a direct measure, the anti-virus measure in Memphis is worse than the virus

Both the health director and the county attorney assured the public that the county will not waver in its determination to pursue individuals who sustain the supply chain of narcotics. I suppose that is newspeak for drug pushers. The U.S. Attorney admitted that the overdose is a pandemic within a pandemic. Furthermore, the stay at home orders have actually made that problem worse. He said that the very nature of a substance abuse disorder was already deadly. With the isolation and financial hardships from Covid-19, individuals with addiction disorders have raised their demand. It seems to me that all this is an admission that the lock down has killed more than it has saved. But I guess hindsight is 20-20.

The lockdown orders made the overdose problem

The county attorney pointed out that hospital beds and treatment are available for addicts. Also, lack of insurance is not a problem. So she encouraged those with the problem of addiction to take advantage of those options. I must point out to the County Attorney that it is not Covid-19 that has caused this problem. Rather, the fault lies with the reaction to Covid-19 and the decision to:

  • Shut down this entire county,
  • Close down its economy, and
  • Shelter in our homes.

That decision caused the increased overdose deaths not the virus by itself.

Memphis sees cancellation of graduation – and the prom

There is another problem that has been caused by the lock down orders in response to the virus. That is the denial of simple pleasures that are meaningless to some but mean a great deal to others. For example, this current generation of high school students has lost the thing that kids dream of throughout school. That is high school graduation. They have also lost that rite of passage we call the senior prom.

A virtual prom?

The Commercial Appeal last Sunday edition front page had this headline. “Covid-19 cancels proms, but not the joy.” It features a picture of a young woman in her prom gown. She is looking out the front window of her parents’ house. The story goes on to explain that she has been planning for the prom since she was a sophomore. She even picked out her gown. I suppose now she will have a virtual prom, and her virtual date will pick her up in a virtual limo and take her to virtual dinner, and then they will attend the virtual dance.

And a virtual graduation, too?

Perhaps later they can both virtually attend their virtual graduation, an event anticipated for 12 years. None of that sounds very joyful to me but that is how the Commercial Appeal describes it. The paper explains that this girl’s story is just one of many ways that teenagers are trying to solve the problem of senior prom. The problem being how to be seen looking all beautiful without getting sick. Fortunately, we still have our video images that all teenagers spend most of their lives looking at anyway. They dress up literally, the paper explains, and imagine what could have been.

In Memphis as elsewhere, two weeks stretched into three months

The paper explains that although these kids have lost that rite of passage into the freedoms of adult life, they have gained something more valuable and that is how to adapt. Yes, I suppose they have adapted to forcible confinement. But the question is how much of it is really necessary. When all this started, as a business owner I received orders to just quarantine my business and my employees for two weeks to let the curve flatten, so that is what I did. Two weeks are now in month 3 and we might possibly see the orders gradually lifted in this city. But we always hear that it’[s coming back so get ready to hide again.

Will the economy return? Or not?

Regulations governing the workplace and its relation to employees and the virus change almost daily. So keeping up with them becomes virtually impossible. The future of the economy and of business in general look grim to me. Will the restaurant business ever return to full speed? What about the movie industry? Will people return in large numbers to the theaters? Or will Hollywood finally get what it deserves? Travel will obviously not return for a long time, if ever. But retail is the most frightening because so much depends on it.

A consumer economy without consumers

A consumer-based economy like this one depends on having things to consume. Optimism about the future fuels that consumption. J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Pier One Imports, among others are already in bankruptcy. Many more teeter on the brink, so where are we to find the optimism? I don’t know, but perhaps we can buy virtual clothes, eat in virtual restaurants, fly on virtual airplanes to exotic virtual places, visit virtual families, attend virtual college, get virtual jobs all paid for with virtual money.

Conflict between the controllers and free people

Finally, folks, what is all this madness and hysteria about? I’m sure your guess is as good as mine. But my guess is that it is a battle between those who prefer an orderly, controlled society that can be directed by “experts” who, of course, have impeccable scientific credentials from ivy league universities, versus those of us who prefer to live in freedom and make our own decisions about our lives.

At least that’s how I see it, virtually anyway.

Until next time folks,

This is Darrell Castle.

1 This submission arrived on Tuesday 26 May. – Ed.

About the image

“Horse and Buggy on Beale Street” by Reading Tom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Darrell Castle is an attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, a former USMC Combat Officer and 2008 Vice Presidential nominee. Darrell gives his unique analysis of current national and international events from a historical and constitutional perspective. You can subscribe to Darrell's weekly podcast at castlereport.us

constitutional law, coronavirus, liberty

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