The Issue Is: Fourth of July takes on new meaning during COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests

This Saturday, July 4, 2020, marks the 244th birthday of America. 

But this year, the celebration is quite different. As Coronavirus cases spike nationwide, millions of Americans are being told to avoid the BBQs, the fireworks, and the parties, and instead celebrate their nation’s freedom while locked at home.

At the same time, as protests continue in the fight for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd, debates now rage over whether America really is the “land of the free and the home of the brave?'

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Elex Michaelson breaks down these issues and more as he’s joined on The Issue Is by Dr. Drew Pinsky, attorney Lisa Bloom, and radio host John Kobylt. 

Here's this week's podcast:

The conversation begins with Dr. Drew Pinsky, the world-famous internist, addiction medicine specialist, and co-host, alongside Elex Michaelson, of FOX 11 LA’s nightly Coronavirus Crisis special report.

This, as nearly 55,000 new Coronavirus cases were reported in California this week, bringing the state’s total to over a quarter of a million.

As positive cases, and hospitalizations, have increased, California Governor Gavin Newsom has started rolling back reopening efforts in parts of the state, ordering, among others, that indoor restaurants, wineries, and theaters close in 19 of the state’s counties, including Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego. 

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“We needed to do something,” Dr. Drew said. “If we had had universal mask participation, if people had been absolutely diligent in the use of masks and social distancing, we probably would not be in this situation. But the reality is we had demonstrations, we had people congregating in bars and restaurants, and now we’re in a situation where we’ve got to do something.” 

With that in mind, Pinsky expressed support for the Governor’s decision to shut down Fourth of July festivities, saying that congregating at night for fireworks could result in further transmission.

While Dr. Drew indicated support for the Governor’s plan, he was more skeptical of recent actions by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who this week reminded Angelenos that they could not gather in groups, even of friends and family, at the same time that massive protests were allowed to continue right outside LA City Hall. 

“One of the most sensitive aspects of public health messaging is honesty and lack of hypocrisy, and never exaggerate,” said Pinsky.

“If you overstate something and the public population finds out you’ve overstated or exaggerated or there was some hypocrisy, they will stop listening to everything, and thus, now we have mask resistance.” 

Dr. Drew said a similar phenomenon occurred following overstated messaging surrounding marijuana use and HIV. 

The conversation wrapped up with a discussion of President Trump’s recent string of events, from his Tulsa rally to Friday’s Fourth of July Celebration at Mount Rushmore, both of which lacked effective social distancing practices. 

“If he wants to take some risk, I think that’s a mistake, he needs to lead by example with this, it’s a very powerful message,” Pinsky said.

“But to allow congregations without social distancing and mask-wearing… it is a gross mistake, and it will result in transmission.” 

So far, following the President’s Tulsa rally, the NY Post reported that two secret Service members and some eight campaign staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. That is in addition to high-profile surrogates Herman Cain and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., who have tested positive since June 20’s rally.

Next, a respectful debate between two friends of the show: legendary radio broadcaster John Kobylt of KFI’s John and Ken Show, and world-renowned attorney Lisa Bloom, who last appeared on the show in early March, having already sheltered at home, before any official warning from state or local officials. 

“It wasn’t that hard to figure out in early March because we could see what was happening in other countries, I could read up on the epidemiology,” Bloom said of her preemptive quarantine. “I never imagined it would be this bad in the US, because I thought we would do what was necessary to do to crush the curve, and unfortunately we didn’t do that.” 

One way to crush that curve is with face coverings. Despite Governor Newsom’s state-wide order, and some California cities, most notably West Hollywood, announcing fines for those caught without a face covering, enforcement remains an issue. “I don’t think there is a way to enforce,” Kobylt said.

“You don’t have enough police, you don’t really have the will from law enforcement to do it.” “I think a lot of people are rebelling, a lot of people have gotten fed up with all the scolding, and a lot of people just don’t believe it, still to this day.”

Kobylt continued, emphasizing that he does believe mask-wearing is an obvious way to cut the transmission.

“I think you’re seeing the result of people losing faith in government, faith in the media, and they find everything to be overblown, exaggerated, and a hoax, a violation of their rights, and they’re telling everyone to go to hell.” 

Bloom was more bullish on the prospects of enforcement, supporting West Hollywood’s $300 fine for first-time mask offenders.

“Let’s take this away from the language of scolding, and let’s talk about saving lives,” Bloom said.

“We have over 128,000 dead Americans, we don’t need anymore. Let’s take our heads out of the sand, let’s follow the science, and let’s put a simple piece of fabric over our face so our neighbor’s grandma doesn’t have to die three weeks from now.” 

Kobylt pushed back, saying that while Bloom expressed the ideal of human nature, it wasn’t the reality and that the reality is that younger Californians, especially those in high-density neighborhoods, are more focused on socializing, especially after months at home. 

From enforcement of the order, the conversation turned to the job of the man who made the order in the first place: Governor Gavin Newsom. At the start of the pandemic, Newsom was riding high, his response to COVID-19 netting him one of the highest approval ratings of all 50 Governors.

As the state continues to maneuver reopening, his approval has been more split. “I don’t fault him, or any politician, this virus has overwhelmed the whole country, and much of the world,” Kobylt said, emphasizing the difficulty of American leaders to balance freedom with personal restrictions and keeping the economy afloat.

“Newsom, he seems arbitrary to me… not letting people go to the beach, but allowing the protestors to roam, most people look at that and say ‘that’s clearly not fair."

“Governor Newsom does not have the right to shut down protests, because people have the First Amendment right to be out there protesting,” Bloom responded.

“I agree, it’s definitely very difficult to be a Governor or a Mayor right now, but I think, overall, Gavin Newsom has done a great job, and I think our Mayor has done an even better job.” 

While the right to protest is enshrined in the Constitution, Kobylt countered that Newsom and Garcetti should have done what they could to lawfully quell them, encouraging people to go home during a public health crisis.

Kobylt added that what the debate ultimately comes down to is people feeling unfairly singled-out, prohibited from taking their families to the beach while thousands are allowed to protests unabated.

“When we all saw the video of George Floyd’s murder, it was just too much for a lot of us to bear, people had to be out there protesting,” Bloom came back, saying justice is more important than a day at the beach.

“For African Americans, racism is a health problem just as significant as COVID-19, and I applaud the Black Lives Matters protestors.”

“But if it spreads the disease, then innocent people are going to get it, including Blacks and Whites, everybody can get the disease, so it has to be a medical issue that takes precedent in that particular case,” Kobylt responded. “You can’t use virtue signaling to deny that there is a health risk out there.” 

From the issue of coronavirus, the conversation then shifted to issues of criminal justice.

First, Bloom, who is representing three people who allege police violence at BLM protests, addressed the ongoing debate over Defunding the Police.

This, as on Wednesday the LA City Council voted to cut the LAPD’s annual budget by $150 million. “It is well past time to [Defund the Police],” Bloom said.

"I don’t support completely abolishing the police, but we have to look at these military-style weapons that we are giving them, and also all of the jobs that we, as a society, are putting on their shoulders.” 

Kobylt expressed some concerns about the move to defund. He said that most funding currently goes to officer salaries and overtime pay, so cuts may leave us with fewer officers in a city that already lacks enough police protection. He also wondered what programs the money would be shifted to, saying there is yet to be any public discussion or nuance about those details.

Another crime-related issue this week was the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, a former associate of Jeffrey Epstein.

On Thursday, Maxwell was arrested on six federal counts, stemming from the enticement and transportation of minors with the intent to engage in sexual activity. 

Bloom currently represents six of Epstein’s accusers, one of whom also alleges abuse at the hands of Maxwell.

“This is a tremendously positive development,” Bloom said. “I think it says that no one is above the law, even if you’re an enabler, the law will come after you eventually.” 

But now that Maxwell is in custody, many, including Kobylt, are asking what happens next, and how will Maxwell stay safe, especially after Epstein’s mysterious death while behind bars last year.

“I think the biggest story the average person is interested in,” Kobylt posed, “is how many famous names are we going to hear about: celebrities, politicians, financiers, and how many of those guys are either going to off themselves or try to get rid of Ghislaine Maxwell because of what’s at stake?”

In commemoration of the nation’s birthday, the discussion ended with an examination of America on this unprecedented July 4. 

“Fireworks are gone, parades are gone, so the specialness of the weekend has evaporated,” Kobylt said, stressing that this would be a good weekend for people to disconnect from social media, remove themselves from the toxic fighting that has dominated the Internet as people have stayed glued to their screens during quarantine. “I think this is a great time for everybody to think about our founding ideals,” Bloom said.

“All men and women are created equal, and non-binary people, this is a time for us all to be serious and reflective. Let’s get serious about fixing the problems in our country.”

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