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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

Arizona's millionth coronavirus case: State leaders won't inhale the truth yet exhale hypocrisy

So I was sitting down to write my millionth coronavirus case in Arizona column when something happened. I'm not sure serendipitous is the right word.

YouTube's algorithm loaded a conversation between the Hoover Institute's Peter Robinson and Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist who thinks climate change is real but not worth any real trouble. One of Lomborg’s points was that sea-level rise is wildly overstated in terms of cost. His theory being: People will do small things to save themselves from that horrible eventuality.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

I give you Arizona’s preventable but somehow inevitable 1 millionth coronavirus case. It struck months after everyone could have been vaccinated. The pandemic could have been greatly blunted if people would just wear masks.

Both are simple, rational — and completely rejected by millions of state residents all aflutter with paranoia and stern with defiance.

Arizona busted into double comma territory while Washington State — with slightly more people in it — is still at 550,000.

Of course a certain political party (I’m not going to say which one because that wouldn’t be politically correct) decided that the virus itself was a symbol of freedom. Restrictions to combat it were an attack on liberty.

I will grant them half of that. They have every right to inhale the virus. They have zero right to exhale it in a way that needlessly threatens others. 

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Arizona is not getting creamed right now like it was in July, but the daily caseload has grown from 550 per day in early July to about 3,000 a day right now. And school is now back in session.

The best example is how the state's leaders are choosing coronavirus over school kids with an enormous dollop of hypocrisy. The government absolutely tells kids what to wear and they do it every day in a way that shows some bizarre priorities.

Dress for success

Just for giggles, I decided to look up the dress codes in Arizona schools. All are sanctioned by the Arizona Legislature.

Just remember, kids younger than 12 can't get the vaccine. The mask is all they've got. The Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey won't let schools require them.

They’re leaving it to the parents to decide because parents always know best what’s best for their kids, right?

West Phoenix High School students can’t wear clothes with numbers on them. Put another way, parents can’t decide for themselves that it’s appropriate for their children to wear say, a vintage Jake Plummer jersey with a “16” on it.

Tucson Unified School District doesn’t have anything quirky like that in its dress code but it does include an option to compel all students at a given school to wear a uniform, if 80 percent of parents agree to one. In other words, 80 percent of parents of a TUSD student can eliminate the freedom of the other 20.

At Flowing Wells, jewelry is verboten if “it presents a safety hazard to self and/or others.” Now, I lived with a jeweler for a number of years and I never heard of broach, necklace or locket savagely beating someone.

The Sunnyside School District has dress code that reads as follows.

• Jeans are not to be worn too tight or too baggy.
• Dresses and skirts should not be worn too long or short. Skirts and dresses must be a maximum of four inches from the top of the knee.
• Long earrings should not be worn.
• No bare midriffs, see-through blouses; mesh tops, back-less tops or strapless blouses are permitted.

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Too tight or too baggy? According to whom? Too long or too short? Who’s definition? How is a long earring different than a short earring? I'm not being a pest here, these kinds of rules kind of violate the "vagueness doctrine" of law.

Rules are supposed to be specific so they can't be selectively enforced. That's a threat to liberty.

What’s wrong with bare midriffs? Shoulder-less tops and strapless blouses? Why should you be forced to cover your shoulders or your abs? The ancient Spartans used to encourage nudity to enforce physical fitness for battle. I thought parents and not politicians, bureaucrats and teachers unions should be deciding this.

The argument goes "my kid, my choice."  But that choice comes with exceptions. Parents forfeited their right to allow their kid into class with a bare midriff. But they jealously guard the right to spread a pandemic.

No mistake

Clearly, I figured there must be some oversight up in the governor’s office. A true American as devoted to parent choice and individual liberty clearly wasn’t aware such atrocities were occurring in schools across his state.

So I fired off an email to Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin asking when the obvious mixed messages about freedom v. tyranny would be de-conflicted:

"When will the governor be issuing orders (or seeking legislation) to allow for students to have their shoulders uncovered, which is now largely banned in Arizona schools?

"Will the governor be taking action to stop the state from forbidding state employees from wearing shorts, as is now prohibited in the Arizona dress code (even in summer)?"

Oh yeah, that’s another thing. Right now if you are an Arizona state employee, you are forbidden from wearing shorts to work. The jackboot of government demands the government employees' thighs, knees and calves be hidden. If we can't demand noses, mouths and chins be covered, why should we demand thighs, knees and calves be freely exposed?

Dress for health and safety

As far as schools go, health and safety are part of the 1994 guidance allowing the state’s schools to put dress codes in place.

"The Board authorizes the Superintendent to develop and enforce school regulations prohibiting student dress or grooming practices that: 

Present a hazard to the health or safety of the student or to others in the school.

Materially interfere with school work, create disorder, or disrupt the educational program.

Schools are allowed to require clothing based on health and safety concerns, huh? 

What's more dangerous? Flying nose rings and friendship bracelets or airborne SARS CoV-2. 

I’m also curious as to how many students and teachers in the presence of a woman or girl in a halter-top have found the experience fatal. Does the same lethality apply to the bony knees of some caseworker at the Department of Economic Security?

I mean a silly columnist might ask how many people have been infected by a deadly disease because some other person exhaled.

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Oh yeah. A million.

But how many have died as a result?

18,700.

How many completely preventable deaths have been reported in Arizona during the last week?

An average of 22 per day. How many Americans were killed again in Kabul during an ISIS attack? Was it 13?

So I asked Karamargin a couple of follow up questions:

1. Is it the governor's position that a pandemic scorching through 10-year-olds does not create a hazard for other 10-year-olds?

2. When little Kylie has to take a day off to bury her mommy or daddy killed by the COVID that Kylie passed to them through school, would that constitute "interference with schoolwork?"

I would say yes. But the governor's the one inhaling off the four-foot Freedom bong and calling the rest of us high.

Non-denial response, near rebuttal

I get the sense Karamargin wasn't thrilled with my tone. He offered a vague response to the world in general about the millionth case: "Valleywise Health in Phoenix reported today that 100 percent of its COVID-19 patients are not fully vaccinated. The situation is similar at hospitals all across Arizona. It doesn’t have to be like this. The best way to reduce the number of cases and put this pandemic behind us is the vaccine."

Well, yes it does have to be like this, because when the state's head of government treats a global pandemic with less "hard-power" urgency than a cheerleader's midriff, thousands are going to die.

And we in the press are left to only discuss the politics so as not to be too rude.

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It does have to be this way, because kids under 12 can't get the vaccine and their only protection is other people wearing masks and getting their shots, which the governor and Legislature are actively thwarting.

This ... this ... is how you get to one million cases. Vague platitudes and "gee-gosh-willickers" pretty pleases come from the governor, instead of strict measures and tough decisions required to keep Arizonans safe.

Ducey doesn't even have to do it. He could just let local jurisdictions do it. That's not an option since he signed a bill into law prohibiting them from providing a safe education and taking their own measures to stop the virus from spreading.

That would be an anti-virus policy. What the governor is doing is the opposite. He's pursuing a de facto pro-virus policy. Simply whining "Aw, c'mon guys ..." isn't going to get the job done. 

Then again, maybe the job is to keep his political hopes alive by appeasing his pro-COVID base.

My questions aren't crazy. The reality that Ducey signed into law is crazy.

COVID-19, bear down

Of course this isn’t about some sort of aversion to rules. It’s about vicious signaling (the opposite of virtue signaling, as the goal is to demonstrate the opposite of virtue) by a governor trying to show how he chooses to define freedom. A million coronavirus cases are just a million rain drops of freedom that proves Arizona rugged enough to withstand thousands of preventable deaths.

So I asked the next logical question: Now that pro-virus state policy has produced our one-millionth case, where do we go to cover the governor's celebrations of freedom and liberty? Anything planned?

I know C.J. and he knows better. I’ve known 1,000 Doug Duceys since I’ve moved to Arizona and covered politics and he knows better, too.

I opted for tact and cut this last question from my email: “Neither you nor the governor are categorically insane. Why are you acting like it?”

It seemed gratuitous. Then again, it may be the one question that matters.

No Bjorn. When it comes to climate change, people will not take the most basic and simplest steps to protect themselves or their communities. We’re getting a good test case right now in Arizona.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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As state leaders' pro-pandemic policies guide Arizona to its 1 millionth coronavirus case, the Ducey team is mum on celebrations.

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