Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Multiple Simultaneous Catastrophes

Things have gone from weird to crazy. It is just about impossible to keep up with the news. We have at least three crises in the headlines -- a pandemic, a collapsed economy, protests against police violence -- and literally dozens of minor crises swirling through the columns of the back pages. The President is going looney-tunes, tweeting video of very fine people chanting "white power" and calling his colleagues "traitors" and "losers." He has been protecting Russia's bounty on American soldiers, and maybe he didn't know about it, and maybe that's because nobody told him and maybe it's because they told him and he wasn't listening. Or maybe he knew. Maybe he doesn't know if he knows or not.

But there is good news in this insanity as well. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly revealed problems that our society has been covering up for a long time, and this clown of a President has pushed the population to the point of wanting to do something about it. It turns out Americans, even comfortable middle-class white Americans, do not like the police strangling innocent citizens, and they also don't like the police gassing people, shooting them, slashing their tires, beating them with clubs. This has been going on for a long time but the corruption and racism has become so central and so obvious during Trump's term that decent people find themselves ashamed and sickened, to the point where they are willing to get out of their cozy living rooms and do something about it. There may be a temporally-limited burst of enthusiasm over Black Lives Matter initiatives, but the changes that are being implemented now will last for a long time.

Also, those statues and flags. To me, it's like those people who yell at immigrants in public: "This is America, talk English!" Only now, a century and a half later, Americans are saying to supporters of the Confederacy, "This is America, cut the racism!" Bout damn time.

I am tempted to say that the pandemic is the big story. It has touched our daily lives in a way that few political controversies have. The virus is amping up to hurricane level out there, killing people, crushing the economy, changing everything about the way we live. We're at forty thousand new cases a day now, still increasing.

But the pandemic has hit everywhere in the world, and it is not the big story in most places. It was a known quantity, a contagious respiratory disease, it required a coordinated campaign to stop it, and most countries in the world figured out a way to do that. There were lots of solutions, from shutdowns to contact-tracing and isolation to masks and distancing, and they have worked. While we are dying and dreading the next wave, some countries have zero cases and are going to the beach and the movies like normal.

So the big story is not the pandemic but the ineptness of the government that we relied on to manage it. I will not list all the ways they made the epidemic worse, but will echo the sentiments of some insightful analysts who say: they couldn't have done this badly by accident.

The polls are showing that Trump is unpopular and the Republicans are beginning to wonder if they should run somebody else for President. They are breaking from him on masks, even Sean Hannity is telling people the opposite of what the President says. Tomorrow the European Union is going to announce their new travel strategy and it looks almost certain that travel from the US will be restricted, if not banned. That isn't because we have a virus, it is because we got a virus and the official plan to fight it was "one day, like a miracle, it will disappear."

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The American Epidemic Continues

What month is this? Huh, June, oh yeah. Half over. And when did we shut down? Oh yeah, March, middle of March. It's been three months.

People are getting tired of it. They want to work, buy things, socialize. Hear some music. In fact, a lot of people are acting like the pandemic is over.

But it's not.

Many countries around the world are opening for business. They implemented measures when the pandemic hit, followed the playbook, and when cases were reduced to a certain number people were able to come out again.

The Washington Post talks today about the success of some countries, and notes the odd fact that many of them relied on American research that was ignored by US policy makers.

Germany, for instance, with a large older population, has had 9,000 covid deaths, compared to 120,000 in the US so far. The Post interviewed a German leader who said Germany had especially looked at American research. They were one of the first countries to require face masks on public transportation and supermarkets and to practice social distancing. They watch the data, and public policy makes adjustments as the cases decrease or increase.

Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials or advisers from Canada, New Zealand and South Korea. He said when he went to the Trump White House, early in the outbreak, "the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic did not reflect his conclusions. 'I think they have cherry-picked models that at each point looked the most rosy, and fundamentally not engaged with the magnitude of the problem, he said." In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm
[Epidemiologist and German MP] Lauterbach said that even though most Germans disapproved of Trump before the pandemic, even his staunchest critics in Germany were surprised by how even respected U.S. institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, struggled to respond to the crisis.

The CDC, for instance, initially botched the rollout of test kits in the early stages of the outbreak.

“Like many other aspects of our country, the CDC’s ability to function well is being severely handicapped by the interference coming from the White House,” said Harvard epidemiologist Lipsitch. “All of us in public health very much hope that this is not a permanent condition of the CDC.”

The good news, I'd say, is that there was no surge in cases after the BLM protests. The experts note that most people wore masks and most continued to keep marching and moving from place to place. So maybe you don't have to be an isolated hermit, you can go out, you just have to be careful.

Japan, a country with 126 million people -- about half of the US -- has had a total of 858 covid deaths without shutting down or even social-distancing. How did they do it? The government told people to avoid the three C's: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings. According to Business Insider, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said recently, "We need to create a new lifestyle from now on. We need to change our way of thinking."
Lockdowns in the United States have been framed as extreme, temporary procedures, while in Japan the three C's have been framed as a new, permanent lifestyle for residents. This may bode well for the sustainability of the approach.
Under flailing leadership, the US is not even thinking about permanently changing our way of life, as we continue at a plateau level of about 20,000 new cases a day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Antifa - They're Everywhere, Maybe

Martin Gugino is a volunteer with PUSH Buffalo, which focuses on affordable housing, and Western New York Peace Center, a human rights org. He is also part of the Catholic Worker Movement. He supports peace, opposes nuclear energy, he is 75 years old and he marches in protests when he can -- prostate cancer has slowed him down, but he still gets out.

He came out to join the Black Lives Matter protest this week. All is not clear, but it appears he found a police helmet and stopped a policeman to give it back to him. We don't know what was said, but another cop walked up and shoved Martin. He went reeling backwards and fell, striking his head. The first cop started to help but another pulled him away, and the whole gang of them paraded past without offering any help as blood ran out of Martin's ear onto the sidewalk. He is in the hospital, still alive as I write this.

You have seen this video. But for reference.

And then, just to note for history, here is President Trump's response to this incident:

I don't know for sure, there might be some people in the US who refer to themselves as "antifa." It's short for anti-fascist, and until a couple of years ago I would have though all Americans were anti-fascist. I cannot imagine any of my neighbors thinking that anti-fascists are the bad guys. I have never met an official antifa or seen anything they have produced as far as publications or even tweets, and honestly I am doubtful that such a group even exists, beyond maybe a dozen rowdy teenagers somewhere. I would look for them in Portland, Oregon, if there are any anywhere, but I don't know if there are any there, either.

It does not appear that the group is actually a "group." The Attorney General is trying to get them -- but not the KKK -- classified as a "terrorist organization," but I don't think he will be able to, without producing some evidence that such an "organization" actually exists.

Antifa is mainly a rightwing bogeyman. You can't mention them without mentioning George Soros, who supposedly funds them. As a Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary, I would not be surprised to learn that he opposes fascism in today's world as well. But the idea that he is the mysterious Illuminati-like force behind this all-powerful but invisible group is a piece of rightwing mythology that does not overlap with any facts. If anybody was funding antifa then wouldn't you expect an ad somewhere, a sign, maybe they would rent a room to meet in? Soros has gazillions of dollars, and antifa doesn't seem to have any money.

For the President of the Freakin' United States to be telling the world that this poor old man who was nearly killed by the cops is part of an antifa conspiracy to "scan police equipment in order to black out the equipment" is malevolence gone too far. And just watch the Republican Party line up behind him.

Part of this story, by the way, has to be the insane conspiracy theories that have been going out all over small-town America. Armed rednecks all over the country have been getting texts and social-media messages warning them that busloads of violent antifa members are coming to their irrelevant, lonely little town, to riot and destroy property. And these ignorant idiots grab their AR-15s and run down to Main Street to stop them, then brag about "scaring them away" when no busloads show up. This myth of the mysterious antifa cabal is very pervasive. And very crazy.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Lights Out

In addition to the worst public health crisis since 1918 and the worst economic crisis since 1933, Trump now faces the worst civil unrest since 1968.

Trump’s credibility gap complicates his response to the three crises enveloping his presidency

[UPDATE: Trump Took Shelter in White House Bunker as Protests Raged

White House Goes Completely Dark as Protests Rage Outside ]

Anti-anti-fascist ... what does that make you?