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You can’t ignore the Constitution!

I walked into a local Save Mart and noted the large piece of plastic bolted to the area where the cash register was located. Welcome to 2020.

As I stood at the card reader, I noticed there was no plastic between me and the clerk. To me the installation of plastic was nothing but a silly “feel good” move that little protects either clerk or customer. I flicked the plastic sheet with my finger as I asked her, “So how’s this working for you?’ It was a cynical question. 

You see, I’m one of these people who still talk to people through this Covid-19 thing. I don’t wear a mask either. I also see gimmicks like plastic shields and rubber gloves to be a bit overkill.

The clerk shook her head and said, “I’d rather not say because I might offend somebody.” When I told her it was ridiculous she agreed and said the coronavirus thing was leading America into socialism. The word socialism was hers.

I encounter this attitude a lot.

There are a lot of people who grew up in an era of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley thinking the media was above reproach. Most of us believed that if John Chancellor said it, you didn’t question the factualness of the news he was dispensing.

Then cable TV news entered the picture and to fill the 24/7 cycle and there became less news and the need to fill idle time with talking heads from East Coast liberals espousing their views. The vitriolic “reporting” became slanted so far to the left that people must question how every story is reported. So when they said the Covid-19 virus is going to wiping away millions, people believed it. They were convinced to willingly let government slap on the chains as Big Brother sought to protect us all from our own stupidity. Of course, the liberals grinned the widest when they saw overreaching closure of parks – some police have even arrested dads playing in the parks with their kids – “non-essential” businesses. Conservatives like me were blowing the whistle and calling foul.

You can’t suspend constitutional freedoms in the name of health nor should any American find this acceptable.

When Martin Luther King Jr. cried foul at the way black American was treated, he was hailed as a hero and the laws changed. When conservative cry foul at the suspension of rights, we’re called names by the Left.

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As you know, the Courier posts stories to our website, and then we “tease” the stories on our Ceres Courier Facebook page. There is a brief one-sentence recap and a link to that story on our website.

We know there are people who just read the sentence, don’t click on the link, but then go into full blast mode after not having read the full article.

So last week my column was teased and the predictable reaction occurred to my statement that the Covid-19 thing has been blown out of proportion. Some agreed. Crystal Aguilar, a city rec worker, asked, “Are you saying the whole world exaggerated this situation so Trump can lose in November?” No, I’m saying the media is making this out to be worse than it is precisely because they think it hurts Trump in November. Do I think the medical professionals were scared of hospitals being overrun with patients? Yes. Do I think they used faulty models that exaggerated the problem and shouldn’t have scared American witless? Absolutely. Do I think it was worth destroying the economy and stock market and usurping Americans’ rights? Absolutely not.

Julie Martino commented: “Wow, would you say that to the face of someone who lost a family member to the virus?” Again, I didn’t make light of the tragedy of someone who died from it but the vast majority of deaths have been the elderly and people with health problems from the start. Flu does that to people as well – in fact more people die of the flu every flu season – but then again we don’t shut down businesses and rights over the flu.

Another thorn in my side, Dave Carreon, who will always take the opposite of what I write, suggested I start acting pro-life. I hate to tell you, Dave, but we’re all terminal. We all die. Something gets us all sooner or later. Again, we don’t shut down freeways and roads in America despite the fact that 38,800 people died in crashes on them in 2019. We don’t shut down the country every flu season because 60,000 die from it. We don’t mandate that people exercise or only eat healthy food to get a grip on the 840,700 cardio deaths every year – nor should we. Let people live the lives they want to live and if it takes them early, it takes them early. Death is not preventable.

Apparently the esteemed Dr. Phil and I see it the same way. On Friday it was reported that he said: “Forty-five thousand people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the country down for that. But yet we’re doing it for this?”

A better approach would be find a way to keep the parks, all retailers, malls, health clubs, restaurants and dental offices open and caution people in the interim to refrain from risky close contact or when ill.

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I was a bit puzzled last week as to why Vice Mayor Linda Ryno, who is usually a fiscal hawk, wants the city to give bonuses to all city workers working through the Great Government Mandated Business Shutdown of 2020. She wants to have the council address it at an upcoming council meeting. Out of the top of her head Ryno threw out several figures – $500 or $1,000 or five percent.

Time out. The city is on the verge of taking a huge financial hit with a sales tax revenue decline very soon and Ryno wants to give bonuses to all city workers? On top of a loss of sales tax revenue, the city is also losing $75,000 per month ($900,000 per year) because of an adjustment to the Kase Manufacturing plant developer agreement.

The city has 199 employees. At $500 apiece, that’s $99,500; at $1,000 apiece we’re talking $199,000.

It’s a nice gesture, Linda, that no doubt would make city employees happy but it’s a bit of a slap in the face of those Ceres residents who have lost their jobs and would be happy just to be able to continue working and receiving a paycheck. About 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last month. The optics don’t look well considering that others who have worked straight through this period – store clerks, gas station attendants, fast-food workers, tow truck operators, big-rig drivers and yes, newspaper reporters – and are working for a struggling private sector, which is cutting back hours and not exactly giving bonuses for working even though they are potentially exposed to the virus.

It seems to me any government worker should be grateful they still can work and receive a paycheck. Besides, isn’t their $1,200 U.S. economic stimulus payment courtesy of U.S. taxpayers enough of a bonus?

Ryno has placed the other council members in a tough spot. If they reject her idea they’ll be perceived as unfriendly to city workers, of which the majority are police and fire. If they say yes, expect a backlash from voters.

* * * * *

Channce Condit was up to his old tricks last week – threatening to vote against projects he praises if the council wouldn’t earmark revenues for public safety. Then he became the odd man out in a 3-1 vote.

After telling Mike Reynolds what a great business he has in the Kase Manufacturing cannabis plant, Condit voted no because, frankly, he didn’t get his way. He hasn’t got his way because his insistence on earmarks is unnecessary.

Essentially what he said was: Mr. Reynolds I’m voting no against your business because I’m at odds with the way we’re going to spend your money. That is an irresponsible and rather selfish way to conduct business.

Currently all of the revenues paid by the cannabis developer agreements go into the city’s General Fund. With about 80 percent of the General Fund pie paying for police and fire services, essentially Kase revenue is already earmarked! If Condit can’t see that then maybe he’s blinded by personal political ambition.

Reynolds has funneled about $1.7 million into the city treasury since he opened, allowing city workers to get raises and new officers and firefighters to be hired. 

Even if you strictly forbid one dollar of Kase Manufacturing money being spent on administration or parks or recreation, the council could divert other General Fund dollars to other departments as it sees the need. It’s merely a pea and shell game. Yet Condit pulls out his old “I don’t want this money going to raises for administrators” shtick because it sounds good to the voters who may be blind to the gamesmanship he’s playing.

And besides, isn’t Condit denigrating the value of a city administrator by saying they never deserve a salary adjustment? Keep in mind those administrators are your city manager, your planning director, your HR director, your public works director, your city engineer, your finance director etc. How would Condit like it if his employer, Opportunity Stanislaus, considered his role as an “economic development specialist” unworthy of future salary increases?

Mayor Chris Vierra had a conflict of interest in the Kase developer agreement and stepped out, leaving the four councilmembers deciding. If one more council member had sided with Condit, the resulting 2-2 tie would have been a procedural denial and sent Reynolds’ business packing, with his $300,000 per year check to the city, to another community. What is that worth? Three police officers?

He plays dangerous political games.

* * * * *

I consider myself blessed that my work hasn’t stopped for journalists are considered an “essential worker.” But then again I also haven’t taken a single day of vacation either given that I can’t go anywhere I’d like because everything is shut down. 

But I’ve wondered what the people with jobs considered “non-essential” must be feeling. Isn’t that a slap in the face to every waiter, bus boy, bartender, clothing store sales clerk, health club worker, barista, dry cleaner, and daycare operator., etc.?

And since we’re talking about things that don’t make sense, how is it Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s can stay open but Kohl’s or dd’s DISCOUNTS can’t? Don’t get me wrong, I wish all of them were open!

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I rolled my eyes at this one.

Last week Turlock mayor Amy Bublak embraced this silly Ribbons of Hope campaign, a “feel good” move that does absolutely nothing. She’s wants people in Turlock to tie ribbons around trees and lampposts to signify that we are “all connected in our humanity and we need each other – especially during these difficult times.”

Really? Ribbons are needed to unify people when they’ve been told to stay home? If you really think we need each other, open up life as we knew it. Let us be social again, mask or no mask. If you want to give people hope, quit this gloom and doom talk and open the country back up again. We even had a young teen in Stockton, Jo’Vianni Smith, 15, kill herself because she couldn’t handle life under this stay-at-home order. I wouldn’t doubt if she listed as a coronavirus death victim.

* * * * *

This Covid-19 thing has also exposed some questionable liberal policies. As you know, stores aren’t allowing you to bring in your own bags, this comes after we were all forced to or buy bags, which to me feels like a tax. The fear is that Covid-19 might be on all of your bags and you can’t use them now.

Has anyone else questioned how clean those bags brought from home are in the first place before this Covid-19 thing? For example, grocery bags are routinely stored in garages and despite the fact that I live clean I’ve seen some mice droppings and roaches scurrying in my garage. Who knows if those reused bags weren’t sprayed by a cat, or inhabited by a cockroach or peed on by a mouse or a cat?

* * * * *

State Senator Anna Caballero to the rescue (and the crowd goes wild, ladies and gentlemen). The Democrat who filled Anthony Cannella’s Senate seat was proud as punch to announce she delivered personal protection equipment to farm workers who, and I quote her, “put their health at risk in order to feed the nation have protection from the corona virus, like other essential workers.”

I’m not discounting the importance of farm laborers and farmers and dairymen. But honestly, I didn’t know that workers out in the fields and orchards have any exposure to Covid-19. Who’s kidding who? The Covid-19 problem is in America’s urban areas where people are stacked on top of one another. My eyes rolled at the language in her press release: “Senator Caballero has been leading the effort to collect masks, hand sanitizer, and other PPE in the Salinas Valley to deliver to essential workers, who bravely work each day ….”

Bravely? Of all occupations I’d have to think people picking grapes and lettuce away from populations would be the safest of all occupations. Considering that 98 percent of all Covid-19 victims survive, and that California is on the very low end of things for being the most populous state, “brave” is not a word that comes to mind, unless you’re a politician playing to a constituency in hopes you’ve adequately demonstrated you haven’t sat on your hands in the last month. After all, we must be re-elected one more time before we retire at age 70. Caballero, who burns me up an advocate for sanctuary jurisdictions because that’s the only constituency she seems to care about, had a heaping of praise for farm workers in another sentence, calling them “patriots.” I just hope she wasn’t referring to fruit pickers who broke U.S. immigration laws to get here.

Just checked and her Monterey County is one of the safer counties: just 103 cases and three deaths.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the natives are restless in Sonora. Tuolumne County has virtually been untouched by coronavirus and they protested against the prolong shutdown. Two cases, no deaths and yet businesses are closed. Ridiculous. I hope more protests are to come.

* * * * *

When you think about it, free-spirited California with its largest population of all 50 states, is doing pretty well. And you can’t really say it’s because of social distancing.

While New York State has seen 821 deaths per million residents, California is at 24. Is it because California is so spread out?

One theory is that coronavirus has been in California has been here since the fall!

My own daughter became really ill back in January and bounced back.

Mayor Chris Vierra shared with me that a duck hunting friend of his came down suddenly and violently ill the first week of February. He could not be reached by phone for about five days. When the mayor finally got ahold of him days later his friend explained that he had suffered a 103 degree fever, fatigue and couldn’t smell anything for a while.

Was it coronavirus? When I tell you that his son-in-law had been in Wuhan, China for a trade show around Christmas time and had been sick as well, I think it’s a safe bet. But you can’t expect a liberal to admit to the possibility.

So if Covid-19 has already been in California, we may all be benefitting from herd immunity. It’s also known as community immunity, a situation in which a sufficient proportion of people are immune to an infectious disease through vaccination and/or prior illness to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Kind of like how all of us have had the same Spanish flu that killed off 17 to 50 million globally in 1918 and we’re largely immune from it.

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