Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Lessons We’re Having to Learn The Hard Way

The news just keeps getting progressively worse.

It’s pretty clear that in addition to a global pandemic, we will experience a global economic meltdown. As state governments have stepped up to compensate for the lack of federal leadership, restaurants and bars, gyms and cultural venues have been ordered to close; many will be unable to weather weeks with no income, and will never re-open.

As one of my friends recently noted in a post to Facebook, Coronavirus would have battered the U.S. to some extent no matter who was in the White House. But an even minimally-competent President “would have listened to the public health experts and taken action, realizing that this was about the country and NOT about him (or her) self.”

And most likely, no other president would have rejected the WHO’s offer of test kits, or dismantled the global health emergency task force that was set up to deal with a pandemic. And no other president would likely brazenly lie on a daily basis even as his own administration’s experts contradicted his lies and imbecilic pronouncements. In short, Trump deserves “credit” for the extent of this catastrophe, the long and outrageous delay in taking action, and the economic meltdown that will result, along with many of the (probably unnecessary) deaths that we will see.

So–lesson number one: elections matter. Competent government matters. The character and intelligence of our elected officials matters.

Lesson number two: we’re connected to the rest of the world. Discussion of a “global pandemic” and “global economy” should give “America First” xenophobes pause. (It won’t, but it should.) We really are ALL in this together. Today’s world is far too connected for the walls, travel bans and reflexive hatred of darker “others” that characterize the Trumpublicans’ approach to the rest of the world. Not only are those measures useless and stupid, especially during a pandemic, they inevitably hurt America more than they hurt those “others.” Global cooperation is absolutely essential, not just to the management of health threats, but to efforts to mitigate economic damage.

Lesson number three is another take on the fact that we truly are all in this together–and by “this” I don’t just mean this particular health crisis or this specific economic threat. We humans are– in far more than the biblical sense–our brothers (and sisters) keepers. A government that is not structured on recognition of that fact will be unable to mitigate disasters.

What does that mean? It doesn’t mean abandonment of market economics, but it does mean provision of a far more robust and less haphazard social safety net.

In a recent analysis, the Brookings Institution acknowledged that reality.

In addition to the dire risk to individual health, side effects of the coronavirus pandemic are sure to include widespread economic hardship and uncertainty. If you experience these symptoms, you’re mostly on your own—as the virus reveals a grossly inadequate safety net and willfully ineffective political system that are poised to leave our most vulnerable workers bearing the brunt of the economic and social impact.

The self-quarantines and social distancing measures taken in response to COVID-19 are critical to keeping people safe by reducing exposure to the virus and slowing its spread. But we can already see the strains in our health care system that foreshadow even greater disruptions in the weeks and months to come. Similarly, we are witnessing the unavoidable side effects of social distancing: the reduced economic activity that ensues when masses of people stay home or avoid large gatherings. In turn, this translates into reduced demand for workers….

In the United States, 53 million people must get by on low wages, with median hourly earnings of $10.22. Some of the largest occupations employing these workers are also the most susceptible to the economic slowdown accompanying the virus’ spread: 5 million food service workers, 4.5 million retail clerks, and 2.5 million custodians and housekeepers. When college campuses empty out, when stadiums don’t host games, or when conferences are cancelled, it means that food servers, cooks, clerks, and housekeepers are out of work. And many low-wage workers and those in sales and service industries lack paid sick or vacation leave, which results in no earnings coming in at all.

The plutocrats who have been enriching themselves through public subsidies and tax cuts while disregarding the precarious state of low-wage workers are going to learn a very unpleasant lesson: when millions of people lose their ability to participate in the marketplace–when they no longer have the means to buy the widgets produced by the plutocrats’ factories or to shop for the services and products in which the wealthy have invested–  stock portfolios and tax havens won’t shelter them from that storm.

Ultimately, fortunate people are only secure when everyone is secure.

Radio, Television And Fake News

When Trump announced his ban on travel to most–but not all–European countries, commentators generally panned the move as irrelevant to containment of the virus, which is already spreading in the U.S. Whether Trump’s loyal cult will understand the uselessness of that move–or grasp the degree of incompetence being demonstrated in the face of the coronavirus pandemic–is unknown, but I’d guess it’s improbable.

What the cult won’t even see or hear about are aspects of the travel ban that certainly don’t surprise the rest of us. According to Politico

President Donald Trump’s new European travel restrictions have a convenient side effect: They exempt nations where three Trump-owned golf resorts are located.

Because of course they did.

This is what happens when stupid meets corrupt. As the article notes, residents of the exempted countries are free to live and work in the United Kingdom, meaning they could fly to the United States from a British airport as long as they hadn’t spent time in their countries of origin within the last 14 days. And as leaders of the EU have emphasized, pandemics are global crises. They aren’t limited to any continent and they require cooperation rather than unilateral action.

Meanwhile, His Idiocy has expressed an intent to continue the Hitler-like rallies where he feeds off the resentments and bigotries of the crowd. Until just the last few days, right-wing commentators had joined him in downplaying the risks and dangers of the coronavirus–which brings me to a recent paper by Yochai Benkler, a Harvard professor and co-author of Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics.

Benkler and his colleagues reviewed four million political news stories over the course of three years. They found that “the right wing media ecosystem is distinct and insular from the rest of the media ecosystem,” which hardly comes as a shock to most of us. But they also discounted the influence of the Internet, concluding (as many commenters to this blog have concluded) that radio and television are far more culpable in conveying misinformation.

“A critical implication of our findings is that it is highly unlikely that technology played a central role in causing this asymmetric media ecosystem,” he explained. “If anything, Democrats tend to be younger, and younger people tend to use online and social media more than older people. [Two separate studies found] that sharing of ‘fake news’ was highly concentrated in a tiny portion of the population, was largely done by conservatives, and interacted with age–primarily driven by people over 65. In other words, the problem of online dissemination seems to be driven by older conservatives–precisely the demographic of Fox News.”

And yet while there is plenty of sharing of fake news and other forms of deceptive propaganda online, Benkler explained, these stories only really “explode” once they appear on Fox News. If they remain solely online, the spread is limited.

Benkler attributed the phenomenon to Rush Limbaugh, whose radio show, starting in 1988, demonstrated that conservative “outrage-bait and propaganda” could generate huge profits.

By attacking the groups who sought to change society — feminists, civil rights activists — Limbaugh captivated white Christian men and tapped into their identities.

“The whole business model was not about informing, but creating a sense of shared identity,” he explained.

Despite right-wing efforts to paint false equivalencies, Fox has no leftwing counterparts–Democratic diversity defeats similar propaganda efforts on the left.

Benkler has a somewhat surprising antidote to the rightwing echo chamber.

The most recent Pew survey of news sources used and trusted by Democrats and Republicans suggests that, surprisingly, the most used and trusted sources by both centrist lean republicans and lean democrats are CBS, ABC, and NBC. It becomes critical that these outlets be particularly attentive to how they cover the news, what sort of frame they offer for propagandist pronouncement by the president, and so forth. The hard core of the Republican base who spend their days purely in Limbaugh-Hannity land are lost. But they are only enough to win a Republican primary, not repeated elections. And so the critical pathway to a more reasoned public discourse is for these core mainstream media, trusted by a substantial minority of lean-republican voters, to be ever more vigilant not to spread disinformation, not to stoke the fires, and to understand that professionalism and truth seeking do not mean neutrality when you are reporting in a highly asymmetric media ecosystem like ours. (emphasis mine)

When the pandemic is finally over, I wonder if anyone will compare coronavirus infection rates in the Trump cult to those in the fact-based population?

 

Can A Pandemic Have A Good Side?

Pollyanna here! (I know– this is a rare appearance of my positive side…)

What prompted my question was a series of posts on my neighborhood listserv, which is usually dominated by complaints about trash pickup, potholes and porch thieves. The first of the series was this one:

If there are any elderly or immunosuppressed neighbors who have an errand they cannot run, I’d be happy to help! I work in a nursing facility and know there are many elderly that are fearful of getting to the store.

That was followed by one titled “Be Kind,” which read

Please keep an eye out for neighbors, friends, kids, even people on the street that look stressed. Be kind to everyone since we cannot know the problems they are having with the stress of this slow moving crisis. Whether emotional or financial, it will bring out depression in those trying to keep it together. Domestic violence is likely to increase. It is unlike a hurricane in that we don’t know when, where, how, or how long.

Forty-nine neighbors had responded to that post when I last checked, and the comments were uniformly positive, thanking the poster for the reminder, suggesting ways to be helpful to neighbors, and indicating an intent to check on the well-being of older residents or those with medical problems.

I live in a downtown neighborhood–often referred to (scornfully) as “the hood” by people who assume that urban life is dangerous, faceless and anonymous. I actually know most of my neighbors, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, so I was gratified, but not surprised, by the attitudes expressed in these posts.

Also on the potentially positive side is growing recognition that a robust social safety net doesn’t just help “those people”–i.e., the poor or marginalized. If people living paycheck to paycheck (and there are more of them than you think) don’t have paid sick leave, they are likely to come to work when they shouldn’t, and to infect “us.”

And it probably goes without saying that if everyone had access to healthcare, it would be easier to identify and isolate sick folks and thus contain pandemics. Perhaps the virus will help more people understand why a society that protects the most vulnerable is actually better for everyone.

Finally, despite the best disinformation efforts of Faux News, there are signs that this public health challenge is creating a renewed appreciation for the importance of a properly functioning government.

Periodically, America’s historic penchant for anti-intellectualism and distaste for “pointy-headed” experts facilitates the election of a “politically-incorrect” public official.  Previously, this has been a more common outcome at the state and local level, but in 2016 it elevated a toxic and profoundly ignorant man to the Presidency.

When resentment of knowledge unites with fear of social displacement–in our case, the escalating panic of less-educated white “Christian” males facing loss of their dominant status–it creates an opening for the con men and would-be autocrats who view government office as an opportunity for graft rather than a call to serve.

Unfortunately, when an emergency arrives that requires a government solution, the utter inability of these bozos to perform–to use the powers of government for their intended purpose– becomes too obvious to ignore.

The Trump administration’s multiple transgressions against science, the environment and the most basic principles of good government will be responsible for many deaths that  might have been avoided. There isn’t much average Americans can do about that at this point–but going forward, we can and must learn a lesson: competent government matters.

And at a time where so many Americans have displayed their ugliest sides–their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and more–we can take comfort in the humanity and genuine goodness of so many ordinary citizens.

It may not be enough, but it’s important.

Ceding My Post Today To Snopes

Given yesterdays stock market debacle and the Coronavirus panic that produced it, I am turning today’s post over to Snopes.

______________________

Amid warnings from public health officials that a 2020 outbreak of a new coronavirus could soon become a pandemic involving the U.S., alarmed readers asked Snopes to verify a rumor that U.S. President Donald Trump had “fired the entire pandemic response team two years ago and then didn’t replace them.”

The claim came from a series of tweets posted by Judd Legum, who runs Popular Information, a newsletter he describes as being about “politics and power.” Legum’s commentary was representative of sharp criticism from Democratic legislators (and some Republicans) that the Trump administration had ill-prepared the country for a pandemic even as one was looming on the horizon.

Legum outlined a series of cost-cutting decisions made by the Trump administration in preceding years that had gutted the nation’s infectious disease defense infrastructure. The “pandemic response team” firing claim referred to news accounts from Spring 2018 reporting that White House officials tasked with directing a national response to a pandemic had been ousted.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer abruptly departed from his post leading the global health security team on the National Security Council in May 2018 amid a reorganization of the council by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Ziemer’s team was disbanded. Tom Bossert, whom the Washington Post reported “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks,” had been fired one month prior.

It’s thus true that the Trump administration axed the executive branch team responsible for coordinating a response to a pandemic and did not replace it, eliminating Ziemer’s position and reassigning others, although Bolton was the executive at the top of the National Security Council chain of command at the time.

Legum stated in a follow-up tweet that “Trump also cut funding for the CDC, forcing the CDC to cancel its efforts to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics in 39 of 49 countries in 2018. Among the countries abandoned? China.” That was partly true, according to 2018 news reports stating that funding for the CDC’s global disease outbreak prevention efforts had been reduced by 80%, including funding for the agency’s efforts in China. But that was the result of the anticipated depletion of previously allotted funding, not a direct cut by the Trump administration.

On Feb. 24, 2020, the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion to address the coronavirus outbreak, an outlay critics asserted might not have been necessary if the previous program cuts had not taken place. Fortune reported of the issue that:

The cuts could be especially problematic as COVID-19 continues to spread. Health officials are now warning the U.S. is unlikely to be spared, even though cases are minimal here so far.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press call [on Feb. 25].

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in the winter of 2019, and cases spread around the globe. The U.S. had 57 confirmed cases as of this writing, while globally, roughly 80,000 patients had been sickened with the virus and 3,000 had died. As of yet, no vaccine or pharmaceutical treatment for the new coronavirus. Data from China suggests the coronavirus has a higher fatality rate than the seasonal flu, although outcomes depend on factors such as the age and underlying health of the patient.

 

 

 

Elections Have Consequences

Monday, the Dow fell 1000 points due to fears of Coronavirus contagion. Yesterday,  it continued to decline–to the tune of more than 800 points.. News outlets are suggesting that fears of a worldwide pandemic have dramatically increased the likelihood of a global recession.

According to one business publication (lost the link), what begins in China doesn’t stay in China.

As the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts economic activity – owing partly to the unprecedented quarantining of huge subsets of the population – there is reason to expect a sharp slowdown this year, with growth falling significantly below last year’s official rate of 6.1%. During the recent meeting of G20 finance ministers, the IMF downgraded its growth forecast for China to 5.6% for 2020 – its lowest level since 1990.

This could hamper global growth considerably, because the world economy is more dependent on China than ever. In 2003, China constituted only 4% of global GDP; today, that figure stands at 17% (at current exchange rates).

If the grim forecasts prove accurate, it will cost the economy a great deal more than Donald J. Trump “saved” by summarily terminating a promising research project aimed at predicting and minimizing pandemics (he undoubtedly terminated it simply because the Obama administration supported it.)

 The Hill recently reminded readers of Trump’s ongoing attacks on healthcare and medical research.

Last year Trump shut down a federal program called Predict that was established ten years ago as a response to the H5N1 bird flu outbreaks. Predict investigated and provided surveillance of infectious diseases and viruses, studied and discovered new diseases that are able to jump from animals to humans, developed testing to detect these viruses, and trained “medical detectives” on the ground across the globe. This federal ability to avert pandemics is now mostly gone, making our ability to contain diseases worldwide significantly more difficult.

Figuring out how to contain potential pandemics is obviously a high priority for rational public servants. In addition to concerns about public health, the specter of contagious disease tends to have a significant impact on economic activity, because fear causes healthy people to avoid traveling, shopping, and even going to work.

In 2018, federal public health workers had their paychecks slashed because of alleged “government delays” in setting up a payment system Congress had ordered and allocated money for years ago. Following the pay cuts — which were eventually restored, but still caused significantly and understandably decreased morale in the service corps — Trump announced that he would be cutting nearly 40 percent of the uniformed federal public health professionals who are deployed to disease outbreaks, natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

A beleaguered, demoralized and reduced U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will cripple our ability to respond to Coronavirus and other diseases like it. Overall, Trump is proposing to cut the doctors, nurses, engineers and public health professionals working for the federal government from 6,500 officers to “no more than 4,000 officers.”

There’s more–much more–as The Hill concluded.

Trump is also proposing drastic cuts this year to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health — key federal agencies that research and respond to public health emergencies — including a $838 million cut to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A proposed $2.6 billion cut to the Environmental Protection Agency would eliminate crucial programs that address climate change, which would be detrimental to public health as rapidly warming environments create petri dishes for the spread of viruses, and would also cut programs that monitor and restore water quality.

These cuts are unacceptable in the face of a growing global public health emergency.

It’s no wonder the Health and Services Resources Administration is in a panic and scrambling to develop an adequate response to the growing Coronavirus health emergency. A constant barrage of cuts, deterioration, weakening and outright elimination of America’s historically robust public health infrastructure has made us vulnerable.

While Coronavirus is our current concern, we should always be prepared to deal with public health concerns…. The Trump administration’s insistence on cutting programs that keep us healthy not only put people living in the United States at risk — it makes the world more dangerous for everyone.

The Trump administration should immediately reverse cuts to critical federal agencies in order to protect public health worldwide, and Congress should allocate more funds to combatting the current virus of concern.

Meanwhile, as we have starved the agencies that work to keep us safe and/or healthy, Trump’s payments to farmers–necessitated by the damage caused by his idiotic tariffs–now total twice as much as the automobile bailout. (And don’t get me started on what his incessant golf outings and children’s extravagant travel have cost us.)

Yesterday, from Fantasyland, Trump pooh-poohed concerns, and assured the world that America has it all under control.

Voting for an ignoramus because he resents the same people you do can really get expensive….