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GREG HARTON: When crisis also means opportunity

by Greg Harton | April 5, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Every day at my palatial editorial page headquarters -- also known as my home -- I open my email account full of anticipation of what revelations I will find in the worldwide response to covid-19.

On Thursday, it was popcorn.

Naturally, there's nothing that goes together like a pandemic and popcorn. Would anyone think otherwise?

In politics, we often hear the inside-baseball advisory "Don't let a good crisis go to waste." It's the cynical, and probably accurate, notion that within dramatic change there can also be opportunities worth seizing.

It's true beyond the world of politics, too. The popcorn email reminded its recipients how keeping a few weeks' worth of pantry staples on hand and "making fewer trips to the grocer" make good sense. Popcorn, after all, can be used for simple art projects for those young 'uns cloistered inside their homes. And it makes for a healthy snack, too.

This public health crisis has sent public relations, advertising, business and nonprofit professionals back to the drawing board to figure out how to tailor their messages in the Age of the Coronavirus.

I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with that, at least not as much as the "never let a crisis go to waste" phrase might suggest in Washington.

The covid-19 crisis in the nation's capital might mean it's a perfect time for spending -- on highways.

President Trump as well as the Democrats in the House of Representatives were thinking alike in recent days as both sides began talking about spending billions, maybe trillions, on a national infrastructure program. Trump explained that borrowing money during the crisis would be inexpensive and the resulting jobs could help to mitigate some of the jobs lost as much of the nation retreats from covid-19. Handing those out in an election year wouldn't hurt, either.

Other organizations view the crisis as a foundation for advancing causes they backed well before the public health issues.

Advocates for election reforms say the social distancing means it's time to stop the back-and-forth debate on reforms, such as authorizing mail-in ballots or even online voting. Who, after all, wants to go stand in a line and use touchscreens everyone else is touching in the midst of a pandemic?

The potential impact of covid-19 on jail and prison populations is creating opportunities for more conversations about reforms that might get people out of their incarceration more quickly.

Critics of the auto insurance business are chiming in, too. They note that insurance companies are pocketing billions of dollars in increased profits as people aren't driving and, thus, aren't having wrecks. The critics suggest the companies ought to provide some sort of rebates, which would be particularly helpful to those now unemployed.

Naturally, the scammers are taking advantage of the moment, from marketing fake covid-19 test kits to setting up cons designed around the federal government's stimulus package promise of cash for Americans. Dishonest folks are offering faster ways for Americans to get their money; all they need is your bank account number and all your personal information and they'll work it all out. For themselves, that is.

Of course, there's also our government leaders at state and local levels. If any of them are particularly irritated by or averse to public involvement, a pandemic that limits how many people can gather in one room is a grand opportunity to sneak through a potentially controversial project or pay raises or the like. Pope County leaders, for example, pulled all kinds of back-door shenanigans to get their ducks in a row on backing a casino operator. That happened last year when things were "normal." Imagine what would be possible now when it's difficult for the public to monitor their actions or to provide feedback.

Crises are indeed opportunities for advancing the good and the bad. The challenge is being aware of when it's happening.

Commentary on 04/05/2020

Print Headline: When crisis also means opportunity

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