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It was a most unusual swearing-in ceremony

I’ve never been to a swearing-in ceremony like the one that happened Thursday evening.

The public wasn’t allowed to witness the transfer of Ceres City Council power – not even the proud family members of the new council folks to witness the momentum occasion. Couper Condit’s brother Gary who was allowed there to shoot footage for a YouTube video about his brothers. I obtained permission to show up on official newspaper business. The doors to the Ceres Community Center were locked and I had to be let in.

Everyone in the room was masked until outgoing Mayor Chris Vierra walked in unmasked, which didn’t bother me. Not only was he less than enthusiastic about some of the new members coming onboard as he leaves, Vierra defiantly bristled at the mask mandate, which he feels – as do I – that it is worthless in protecting people, and a grave imposition not to mention being an illegal mandate. After all, have you seen how many mask wearers end up getting COVID-19?

The departing mayor shared how city management heads would have rolled had he remained on the council and been told that no family could be present. Such is the dilemma of a powerless lame duck.

Despite some tension that occurred between him and I during the campaign, the new mayor graciously shook my hand – you may think hand shaking is dangerous and irresponsible but not me. It was a gesture of goodwill. The rest of the officials extended to me their elbows for bumps.

I had suggested to soon-to-be Mayor Lopez that a better news photo would be actually seeing the faces of elected officials taking the oath – since they’d be six feet apart anyway – and he was game to take off his mask. However, new Councilman Bret Silveira balked. I suspect Silveira – who once called me an idiot in a social media post – knows that such a photo would bring down a hail of criticism. So the masks stayed on, despite Vierra admonishing Silveira that real leaders sometimes have to go against the tide and fight for principles. And for Vierra, that principle is that government must let people be grown up enough to choose whether or not they cover their face.

The oaths, muffled by the masks, were repeated by Couper Condit, Bret Silveira, Javier Lopez and city treasurer Kayla Martinez. Next came what seemed like five minutes of awkward silence as Recreation Manager Matthew Lohr sanitized the dais as if he was prepping for surgery in front of the microphones.

The three finally sat down with Vice Mayor Linda Ryno to sit down for only roll call and adjournment.

After the short meeting, I thought it would be nice to get comments from the new officials. Mayor Lopez was gracious as was Councilman Silveira.

Couper Condit snubbed my request, albeit politely. I get that Condit doesn’t appreciate my ongoing criticisms of him and his brother but it would be nice to see a newly elected leader rise above such pettiness and communicate with folks through the medium of the town newspaper regardless what you think of the reporter who often offers editorial content. But, hey, it’s a free country.

As I go into what will likely be my final five years in this position before retirement, covering this new council is going to be interesting. But then again, normal is over in this state and country.

* * * * *

Help me out here. They say if you have COVID-19 to quarantine yourself at home. So if a prisoner gets it, instead of quarantining in a jail cell with his cell mates, they let them out to go spread it to the general population who didn’t break laws to find themselves in jail or prison?

Stupidity knows no bounds in the California seat of government!

* * * * *

I don’t mean to minimize those folks dying of COVID-19. One such death occurred on Nov. 13 with a 41-year-old Modesto nurse named Brandy Houser. Brandy was a hospice care consultant. The death made its ways to the pages of the New York Times. Her husband, Kris Houser, pled with families not to celebrate together for the holidays in a CBS Sacramento news spot.

Kris’ loss is real – and painful. However, people need to weigh risk versus benefit. Such deaths are relatively rare when you consider that most people with COVID-19 show mild symptoms. Every person I’ve known who tested positive for it has experienced only minor symptoms. My brother and sister-in-law tested positive for it last week and only experienced mild cold symptoms and a temporary loss of taste and smell.

Would the public have put up with locking down the nation’s workplaces, businesses and schools because of the flu? CDC estimates for the 2019-20 flu season indicated that, as of April 4, between 24,000 and 62,000 lost their lives to the ordinary flu. Of course we would have revolted at a lockdown.

Earlier this year U.S. News & World Report published an article which stated: “During the 2018-2019 season, the CDC estimates 16.5 million people went to a healthcare provider for the flu and more than 34,000 people died in the U.S. The prior season saw 61,000 deaths.” Yet, we “allowed” nail salons, restaurants, museums, schools and gyms remain open.

The article quoted University of California Riverside epidemiologist Brandon Brown who noted is about COVID-19: “There’s a lot of hysteria right now about that.” About the flu he said: “This is the annual outbreak that we have every year that we’re not really paying as much attention to. We need to be much more afraid of the thing that’s been killing us for years, which is the seasonal influenza.”

Nobody wants to be sick. (I once had the flu and felt like dying yet did not need to seek medical attention. It just had to pass). My point is that shutting down our normal way of life is worse than the disease and it’s killing people. We don’t know why 11-year-old Lodi area boy shot himself to death last week during his school’s Zoom class but I’d wager it was that he couldn’t cope with the isolation and loneliness caused by policies inflicted by dictatorial authorities like Gov. Newsom who preaches one thing for us to do while arrogantly ignores his own rules and makes exemptions for his self.

I am convinced my mother lost her will to live when the government exacted draconian rules that locked residents of assisted living facilities in their rooms and away from activities and people they enjoyed on the outside. My mother’s only bright spot of the week was when I took her places for lunch. That all stopped mid-March after officials told us, “Oh, this will probably be for only two weeks.” Mom and I talked on the phone and it hurt to hear her say, “I miss you. I miss seeing you.” Not until the last two months did they start allowing me visits through the screen door. She died Halloween day. Here we are in Christmas and officials continue with their illegal directives with no end in sight.

Approximately 550,660 people live in Stanislaus County. We are told that 433 residents have died this year from COVID-19. That’s 0.00078 percent of our county population and who knows if they all truly died of COVID or just old age.

In 2017 the data showed that an average of 7,708 Americans and nearly 150,000 died worldwide on any given day. That’s all natural deaths and deaths by disease and accidents. And guess what? The number one killer of humanity is not COVID but cardiovascular disease.

Worldwide about 3,406 die every die from car crashes, yet we allow people to drive and travel in cars. Worldwide about 3,753 die from diabetes every day yet we don’t lock down the freezers packed with Popsicles and tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and Little Debbie goes about business unmolested from government. Dementia takes 6,889 each day yet the government doesn’t seem too interested in making research funding a priority when you look at HIV and AIDS research.

My point? We’re all fatal, it’s just about how much risk you’re willing to take – and about accepting benefits versus the risks. And it’s about something called freedom which we used to cherish in this country.

Let people make their own decisions and let this run its course. If you feel you’re at risk, do what you have to do. As for me and others, we want to live again.

* * * * *

I’m amused at people’s comments on our Facebook post linked to our story about the Walmart Supercenter site preparation starting. So many commenting have no idea what they’re talking about.

While the story is about a new shopping center for the people already here, Brynn Elaine asks, “How about affordable housing?” I hate to break it to you, Brynn, but affordable housing is a thing of the past because of who keeps getting elected to state office. We have CEQA which adds years and tremendous cost to projects. Democrats control Sacramento and continue to insist on excessive regulation and taxes which, coincidentally, just drove Hewlitt Packard to Texas. Keep electing Democrats like you just did on Nov. 3 and you can expect more of the same … high rents, high homelessness, high taxation and overregulation. That’s why people are seeking relief in other states – providing they don’t carry with them their liberal voting habits and contaminate Texas, Idaho and Utah.

Don’t blame your state leaders for the state’s mismanagement – blame yourselves for voting them into office! You could have picked pro-business Travis Allen or John Cox in 2018 but, no, instead 61.9 percent of you decided the tax-and-spend Gavin Newsom was the way to go. Reap what you sow.

Some folks expressed angst about getting a Supercenter when they think Ceres deserves a Target. A lot of factors go into whether Target – or any chain – builds a store in a community, including land availability, population, disposable income, distance from neighboring stores and economic conditions. But one thing is certain: You won’t see Target coming to the vacant Walmart building. They don’t lease competitors. It’s really why Save Mart continues to lease an empty store on Oakdale Road or Raley’s pays rent on a vacant store also on Oakdale Road. They are keeping competitors out by doing so.

I’m not saying Walmart won’t see to it that the old store is rented out or sold but they will control its use to allow only non-competing businesses in there.

* * * * *

Turning Point USA posted a meme that is truthful:

“PROBLEM SOLVING FOR LEFTISTS: 1). Identify the problem. 2). Blow it out of proportion. 3). Blame it on rich people. 4). Increase the size of government. 5). Repeat.

Pathetic but so true.

* * * * *

I recently took a trip to Long Beach and Los Angeles and I saw homeless everywhere – and typically along freeways, the levies of the Los Angeles River and any nook and cranny.

Meanwhile, Newsom continues to ignore how bad this state has become. In early October Newsom spoke to the growing chorus of Californians who complain the state is headed in the wrong direction and say they’re ready to leave for good. He went on to tout the state’s economy – due to Trump’s booming economy – but ignores how half are fed up and ready to leave. They include people like Shelley Smith who retired from Empire School District to leave for Idaho where her son-in-law is a conservative Idaho state legislator.

The governor said: “It’s our decisions, not conditions that determine our fate and future.” Well, no kidding and lots of us see decisions that spit in the face of common sense. While Newsom said he has “confidence in our capacity to compete,” millions don’t share his Pollyanna view of his administration.

* * * * *

Well, well, well – we have another Democrat leader saying one thing and doing the complete opposite – and then making excuses when caught. 

In last  week’s column I ripped into mask-preaching Newsom for dining at the French Laundry without a mask; and slammed Denver Mayor Michael Hancock who boarded a plane to Houston, Texas for Thanksgiving, after telling Denver residents that they shouldn’t travel, that they should stay home.

Yet another hypocrite rose from the ranks of the Democrats. The mayor of Austin, Texas – the San Francisco of Texas – is guilty of the same hypocrisy. Last month Steve Adler boarded a plane for Cabo to join a wedding party for a week. I don’t mind anyone living their life freely but not when they dictate that others stay home. One night into the trip, Adler messaged Austin residents in a Facebook video: “We need to stay home if you can. This is not the time to relax. We are going to be looking really closely. ... We may have to close things down if we are not careful.” He failed to disclose to the peons of Austin that the king was kicking back on a beach in Mexico.

Just like Newsom who got caught and then lied and then apologized, Adler said he broke neither his own order or those established by Gov. Greg Abbott.  No? Really? Did not the city recommend people not gather in groups of more than 10, and yet the wedding party he hosted have 20 or so?

The Austin mayor should have said he was the victim of a setup like Nancy Pelosi did when she was caught inside of a hair salon not wearing a mask and deflected much-deserved wrath.

* * * * *

A brother from another mother shared this on Facebook and I completely agree with it:

“I tolerated 44 (Obama) for 8 years and although I didn’t vote for him, I only hoped the best for him, never said ‘Not my President’ because he certainly was the president of the United States. (Honestly I didn’t hope the best for him but I did pray that he would do some good for the United States).

Here is my issue with the whole, “let us all be a United States again” that we heard from Joe Biden.

For the last 4 plus years, the Democrats have gone scorched earth. You have salted the fields and now you want to grow crops.

The problem is 72 plus million of us have memories longer than a hamster.

We remember the women’s march (vagina hats and all) the day after inauguration.

We remember the four years of attacks and impeachments

We remember the constant “not our president” and the “resistance…”

We remember Maxie Water telling followers to harass us in restaurants.

We remember the president’s spokesperson being kicked out a restaurant.

We remember hundreds of Trump supporters physically attacked.

We remember Trump supporters getting doxed and fired from jobs.

We remember riots, and looting.

We remember “a comedian” holding up the president’s severed head.

We remember a play in Central Park paid with public funding, showing the killing of President Trump.

We remember Robert de Niro yelling profanities about the president at the Tony’s and getting a standing ovation.

We remember Nancy Pelosi tearing up her copy of the State of the Union Address.

We remember the totally-in-the-tank move of the mainstream media.

We remember the non-stop and live fact-checking on our president and his supporters.

We remember non-stop in-your-face lies and open cover-ups from the media.

We remember the president and his staff being spied on.

We remember five senators shot on a ballfield.

We remember every so-called comedy show turn into nothing but Trump hate fest.

We remember 95% negative coverage in the news.

We remember the state governors asking and getting everything they ask for and then blaming Trump for their problems.

We remember a Trump top aid verbally assaulted in two DC restaurants.

We remember people banging on the Supreme Court doors.

We remember that we were called every name in the book for supporting President Trump.

We remember that Hollywood said they would leave after Trump was elected but they stayed.

This list is endless, but you get the idea.

My friends will be my friends, but a party that has been on the attack for four long years does not get a free pass with me! 

Now, you expect unity?

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at