Cuba Eliminates List of Permissible Activities for Private Sector 

On August 7, Cuba’s Minister of Labor and Social Security, Maria Elena Feitō Cabrera, announced that the government was eliminating the list of permissible activates for the island’s private sector because “it does not promote the development of natural creativity that the Cuban has.”[1]

A private entity will still have to submit a proposed activity to this Ministry, but the proposed activity will only have to be legal with resources and raw materials of legal origin. The Minister added that the government procedures for such applications still need to be simplified.

She added that this change was prompted by “positive experiences” with confronting the Covid-19 crisis. The move also is seen as an attempt to address the island’s current economic crisis after the recent opening of a wholesale outlet to private eateries and the authorization for private businesses to import and export (via state companies).

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[1] The Government will eliminate the list of activities allowed for the private sector in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2020); Reuters, Cuba to Scrap ‘Too Restrictive’ Private-sector Activities List as Economic Pressures Grow, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020); Assoc. Press, Economy Tanking, Cuba Launches Some Long-Delayed Reforms, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 27): More Reflections on the Pandemic

The July 26 New York Times proclaims the statistics of the pandemic’s toll: [1]

  • For the world, there have been 16,034,200 cases in nearly every country with 644,925 deaths while the number of new cases is growing faster than ever with a daily average of more than 200,000.
  • The U.S. (including four territories), with at least 4,190,400 total cases has the most of any country in the world while recoding 146,314 deaths. “Case numbers are surging throughout most of the United States, including in many states that were among the first to reopen. Because the number of people hospitalized and the percentage of people testing positive also are rising in many of those places, the case spike cannot be solely explained by increased testing. Still, coronavirus deaths remain well below their peak levels. And as some places reimpose restrictions, others continue to reopen their economies.”
  • The State of Minnesota has had at least 50,331 cases and 1,611 deaths. “Over the past week, there have been an average of 689 cases per day, an increase of 22 percent from the average two weeks earlier.”

The pandemic has been having and continues to have a major negative impact on the world and U.S. economies. For the week ending July 25, the initial U.S. jobless claims rose to 1.4 million. This increase was the first in nearly four months, “a sign the jobs recovery could be faltering.” Now the $600/week jobless aid is nearing an end. Evictions loom for millions who cannot afford their rent while foreclosures loom for homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages. And the U.S. federal government recorded a budget deficit of $ 3 Trillion for the 12 months ending this June.[2]

These calamities have had a disproportionate impact on our African-American brothers and sisters. For example, in Minnesota 48% of Black workers have filed for unemployment compensation versus 22% of white workers. “One of the big reasons for the unemployment disparity in Minnesota is that Black Minnesotans are more likely to be employed at hotels, restaurants, retail, health and other service-related industries that have seen the most job losses because of stay-at-home orders and other pandemic-induced slowdowns.” In addition, “the pandemic also has disproportionately hurt American Indian, Latino and Asian American employment in the state. Women, younger workers and those with less education have also taken a bigger hit.”[3]

In the midst of these immense problems and challenges, President Trump continues to lie and demonstrate his incompetence. As a result, the rest of the world is shocked and dismayed.[4] I worry that Trump will attempt in some fashion to try to steal the election.[5]

Although I am retired with good health and financial savings and thus not personally affected (so far) by these woes, I worry about the impact of these crises on my sons and grandchildren. More generally I am worried about the negative impact of these crises on people and countries all over the world and the U.S. in particular that will linger for all their lives as I believe happened to those who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

“Investing in the Future” was the sermon today at Westminster Presbyterian Church by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer. It drew upon Jeremiah 19: 1-14, where the Prophet sends a letter to the Jewish people who have been taken into exile in Babylon after the Babylonians had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. God tells the exiles, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

This passage of Jeremiah continues. “Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will [the Lord] visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to [Jerusalem]. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord., and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you [Jerusalem] into exile.”

According to Rev. Brouwer, this passage reminds us today to shed our expertise and judgment, relearn old ways and accept marginal status in the current pandemic in order later to flourish.

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y.Times (July 26, 2020, 9.21 a.m. EDT); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (July 26,2020, 9.21 a.m. EDT); Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (July 26,2020, 9:21 a.m. EDT); Hyatt, Minnesota COVID-19 cases up by 871; 3 more deaths reported, StarTribune (July 26, 2020). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2] Davidson, Coronavirus Spending Pushes U.S. Budget Deficit to $ 3 Trillion for 12 Months Through June, W.S.J. (July 13, 2020); Kiernan, Evictions Loom for Millions Who Can’t Afford Rent, W.S.J. (July 16, 2020); Chaney & Mackrael, Jobs Recovery Shows Signs of Slowing as Coronavirus Surges, W.S.J. (July 17, 2020);Benoit, What Banks Tell Us About Business: Everybody Is Struggling, W.S.J. (July 18, 2020); Morath & Chen, As $600-a-week Jobless Aid Nears End, Congress Faces a Quandary, W.S.J. (July 19, 2020).

[3] Kumar, Half of Black workers in Minnesota have lost work during pandemic, StarTribune (July 18, 2020).

[4] E.g., Achenbach, Wan, Brulliard & Janes, The crisis that shocked the world: America’s response to the coronavirus, Wash. Post (July 19, 2020).

[5] E..g., Sonmez, Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results, Wash. Post (July 19, 2020). See also, Election Officials’ Dread About This Year’s U.S. Election, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 26): Reflections on Life During the Pandemic  

Here are my latest reflections on living through this pandemic.

The morning news on July 1 reported that there have been 10,483,100 people in the world who have been sickened with the coronavirus with 511,540 deaths, all occurring in nearly every country in the world. For the U.S. the numbers are 2,653,200 cases and 127,461 deaths. The recent hotspots are Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and Mississippi.[1] My state of Minnesota has had 36,338 cases and 1,476 deaths.[2]

On June 30 in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said  the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.” He added, ““I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that [3]because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

These are grim statistics and predictions that are endlessly noted in newspapers and television and radio news programs. As an 81-year-old who has been isolated in his downtown Minneapolis condo building since March 19, all I can do is continue to spend time in my condo with my wife, wear a face mask and “physical distance” at least six feet from other people when I leave the condo to buy groceries, walk in nearby parks and go biking.

While in the condo most of my time is spent reading multiple newspapers on my computer and writing blog posts, usually watching MSNBC at night and occasionally other programs. I have to make time to read books for my men’s book group. Within the last week our building’s swimming pool, hot tub and exercise facilities have re-opened to one or two persons at a time, and I have started to use them again.

I have noted the reports that on June 28, Gilead Sciences announced the pricing for the drug remdesivir, the first drug authorized by the U.S. for treatment of COVID-19. The prices were $3,120 for commercially insured U.S. patients (for the shorter treatment course at $520 per dose) and $5,720 for the longer treatment course. For certain U.S. government programs (but not Medicare or Medicaid) and the rest of the world, the price will be $2,340 (for the shorter course at $390 per dose) and $4,290 (for the longer treatment course).These prices were deemed reasonable by the supposedly independent Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on the basis that use of the drug was expected to enable earlier discharge from the hospital and thereby “save” additional hospital expenses. Gilead’s shares suffered a small decline after the announcement based on certain analysts’ belief that the prices for the drug would be higher.[4]

In my opinion, this is a strange way to assess whether a price is reasonable. The proper method, I thought, was to calculate the cost of producing the drug or other product, after subtracting any costs that had been paid for by the government (or by converting that financial contribution into common or preferred stock and paying dividends to the government), and then adding a percentage of the cost as profit, whose reasonableness could then be assessed.

On May 25th I was shocked to hear the news that George Floyd, an African-American man, had been killed by Minneapolis police in south Minneapolis about 3.5 miles from our condo building. To see the teenage bystander’s video of the last minutes of this human being’s life was excruciating. I did not attend any of the immediate protests at this site, but a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant weekday morning, my wife and I visited the site, which felt like visiting the memorial to a martyred saint. As a result, most of my blog posts since then have been about this killing and the related issues of reforming the Minneapolis and other police departments.

Although I believe that the Minneapolis Police Department needs various reforms, I do not support the City Council’s proposed amendment to the City Charter, which will be discussed in a future post.

I also worry about the U.S. and world economy and the financial struggles of so many people, small businesses, political campaigns and our many worthy nonprofit organizations. This concern was voiced in the June 30th testimony of  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell before the House Financial Services Committee. He stated that although May employment and sales numbers were better than expected, the path forward would depend on both how the virus evolved and a willingness at all levels of government to provide policy support as long as necessary.[5]

I continue to be grateful that I am retired and not worried about keeping or finding a job. Instead I sort through the many requests for contributions and notices of webinars and other ZOOM meetings. I try to respond as I am able.

My church, Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis, is shut down because of the pandemic. But every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.it has a worship service on ZOOM that is broadcast in the afternoon on local TV station KSTP. Also available on ZOOM are other services on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Adult education is available on Sundays at 9:15—10:15 a.m. on Zoom. Check the church’s Livestream button for details.

Especially enriching have been Westminster’s conversations with other pastors and theologians about important issues. A future post will discuss the June 21st “Conversation on Big Questions for a Changing Church” between Westminster’s Scholar for Adult Education, Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, who is a Professor at Luther Seminary, with Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I also continue to be shocked by the incompetence and outrageous comments from the mouth of President Trump and have to restrain myself from letting them distract me.

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT).

[2] Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Carlson, Minnesota deaths up 6, to 1,441, in COVID-19 pandemic, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[3] Stelberg & Weiland, Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker, N.Y. Times (June 30 & July 1, 2020)/

[4] Walker, Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir to Cost $3,120 for Typical Patient, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Grant, Gilead Is Wise to Leave Remdesivir Money on the Table, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Carlson, COVID-19 drug price deemed ‘reasonable,’ StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Rappeport & Smialek, Mnuchin and Powell Offer Mixed Views of Economic Recovery, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic journal (# 25): Pandemic Showing Weaknesses of Free Market Capitalism                 

This is the conclusion posed by Dirk Philipsen, Associate Research Professor of economic history at the Sanford School of Public Policy and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.[1]

Free market capitalism, he says, “rewards competing, positioning, and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. [On the other hand, this system] does not value “empathy, solidarity, or concern for the public good, . . . social stability, health, or happiness. As a result, . . . the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere — public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment — in favor of private gain.”

This system also “fails to recognize the obvious: every private accomplishment is possible only on the basis of a thriving commons — a stable society and a healthy environment.”

In addition,. many “successful” corporations in the U.S. version of free market capitalism seek and obtain government bailouts, tax  breaks and subsidies. One example, during this pandemic, is the recent adoption of the CARES Act to provide stimulus to the economy. Yet more than $5 billion was disbursed, under this Act, to 20 large hospitals that had more than $108 billion of cash on hand and whose lobbyists helped the Department of Health and Human Services devise formulas for such disbursements.that did not include hospitals existing financial resources.[2]

Here are two other recent examples of such exploitation by the wealthy.  “A package of $170 billion in federal tax breaks . . .will go overwhelmingly to many of the country’s richest people and biggest companies. A program to rescue small businesses initially directed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to publicly traded companies while many smaller firms were frozen out.”[3]

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[1] Philpsen, Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good, The Week  (May 25, 2020).

[2] Drucker, Silver-Greenberg & Kliff, Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers, N.Y. Times (May 25, 2020).

[3] Ibid; .Drucker, The Tax-Break Bonanza Inside the Economic Rescue Package, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

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[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (#23): Different Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic 

Previous posts have reported that  according to Fareed Zakaria, Peggy Noonan and Ross Douthat, two classes of U.S. society have different opinions about how the U.S. should respond to the coronavirus pandemic: the Managerial Overclass or the Remote Class favors maintaining the lockdown until the virus has been controlled while the Underclass or the Exposed Class favors abandoning those policies and reopening as soon as soon as possible.[1]

Another New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg, disagrees. She believes that the conflict over policies regarding the pandemic are better explained by political party affiliations.[2]

Her dissent cites a recent public opinion poll in which “74 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed.”[3]

Another basis for her opinion was research at the University of Chicago that found that “when it comes to judging policies on the coronavirus, ‘politics is the overwhelming force dividing Americans,’ and that ‘how households have been economically impacted by the Covid crisis so far’ plays only a minimal role.”[4]

More specifically, the Chicago survey showed that roughly 77 percent of Democrats favored lockdown measures remaining in place as long as needed compared with roughly 45 percent of Republicans. On the other hand, roughly 30 percent of the Republicans wanted such measures to remain no longer than a few more weeks versus roughly 4 parent of Democrats. The report adds, “the data reveals no strong association between having lost income due to COVID-19, or fear of losing one’s job, and views about the right length of the lockdown. Among survey respondents, 41 percent indicate having been negatively impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, all else being equal, these respondents were not more likely to favor a quick reopening.”

Goldberg also says, “Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.”

On the other hand, “The push for a faster reopening, even in places where coronavirus cases are growing, has significant elite support. And many of those who face exposure as they’re ordered back to work are rightly angry and terrified.”

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[1] Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflicts in Responses to Pandemic (May 15, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic (May 16, 2020); Comment: Endorsement of Pandemic Pragmatists (May 16, 2020).

[2]  Goldberg, The Phony Coronavirus Class War, N.Y. Times (May 18, 2020).

[3] Washington Post-Ipsos coronavirus employment survey, May 4, Wash. Post (May 20, 2020).

[4]  Bertrand, Briscese, Grignani & Nassar, Wave 2: When and How the U.S. Should Reopen Is a Matter of Politics, Trust in Institutions and Media, Survey Says, ChicagoBooth.edu (May 5, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920

Several; other references to the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-20 have surfaced that remind me of my original post on that horrendous event.

First, Jill Burcum, an editorial writer for the StarTribune, tells us that this prior pandemic was called, in a well-known journal article at the time, as “The Mother of All Pandemics” with an estimated one-third of the world’s population infected and estimated deaths of 50 to 100 million, that it came “in three waves—the spring of 2018, the fall of that year, and then again in the winter of 2019” and that “healthy adults ages 20-40 were particularly at risk of severe disease and death.” She also mentions that in Iowa, her home state, the flu was resurging in October-November 2018, and especially “hard-hit is Camp Dodge, a military training center near Des Moines.” [1]

Burcum then made her research more personal by doing digital research of newspapers for the period in her father’s county in Iowa (Butler County in the north central part of the state) to see how it coped with the Great Flu Epidemic. She discovered to her surprise that her Great-Grandfather George, then a 27-year-old farmer, married with two young boys, became critically ill in December 2018 with what the newspaper said was “pneumonia,” but that the next month was recovering after being critically ill for three weeks. Thereafter he continued farming and with his wife had two more children. Over 40 years ago, Burchum as a young girl knew Great-Grandfather George, “then gray-haired and in failing health,” and would love to have asked him how he endured this, but she was too young to have such a conversation before he died.

This personal discovery, Burcum says, is “a warning about prematurely letting down our collective guard against infectious diseases. Pathogens can go quiet for a few months after an early strike, then come roaring back.”

The second recent mention of the Great Flu Pandemic is an article in The New York Times by David Segal. After noting the above statistics of the Great flu with 675,000 American deaths, Segal reports that “after the slaughter ended, and for decades after, the pandemic somehow vanished from the public imagination. With rare exceptions, it didn’t crop up in novels, paintings, plays or movies. Even scholars overlooked the subject. The first major account of the flu, Epidemic and Peace — later reissued as America’s Forgotten Pandemic — was published in 1976 by Alfred Crosby, who was baffled by the absence of any impression left by the disaster.”[2]

Historians, according to Segal, “say the pandemic sank into oblivion largely because of World War I, the very cataclysm that hastened the spread of the virus, via millions of moving troops. The war and its aftermath overshadowed the disease, too. For the Allies, there was a victory to celebrate, in November 1918, and triumphalism was the mood of the era.” Even then President Woodrow Wilson, “eager to focus on and sustain the war effort . . .  rarely mentioned the virus, even though he nearly died of it [in 1919] during negotiations in France” of what became the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I.

In addition, Segal claims, ignoring the Great Flu Pandemic could be attirbuted to the widespread belief that “dying from flu was considered unmanly.” According to Catharine  Arnold in her book Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts From the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History, “To die in a firefight . . .reflected well on your family. But to die in a hospital bed, turning blue, puking, beset by diarrhea — that was difficult for loved ones to accept. There was a mass decision to forget.”

Yet another reason for amnesia about the Great Flu, said Segal, was “by 1920, isolationism had regained its prewar popularity, and the flu was regarded as just another malignant foreign force, both in the United States and elsewhere.”

Apparently the only U.S. memorial for the Great Flu is a “five-ton granite bench . . .five feet high and three feet deep in a cemetery in Barre, Vermont.

Third, an article entitled, “Pandemic Notebook,” in the New York Times Book Review, mainly discusses contemporary New York City with passing references to fiction and nonfiction books, old movies and TV series about past plagues and mishaps. Its only reference to the Great Flu is the following: “The main lesson of the 1918 flu pandemic (which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide), the historian John M. Barry wrote in The Great Influenzais that ‘those in authority must retain the public’s trust’ and ‘the way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.’”[3]

Conclusion

John M. BarryAs mentioned in this blog’s Pandemic Journal (# 3), my Father as a high school senior and Army trainee at Iowa’s Camp Dodge in 1917-18 lived through the Great Flu pandemic as did my younger Mother, but I never heard about their experiences of living through that pandemic. Therefore, I have concluded to write about my living through the coronavirus pandemic for my own edification and for that of my relatives and descendants.I encourage others to do likewise.

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[1]  Burcum, My great-grandfather wasn/t hit by the first wave of the ‘Spanish flu,’ but the second, StarTribune (May 15, 2020).

[2]  Segal, A Pandemic Barely Etched in Granite Memorials, N.Y. Times–Sunday Business (May 17, 2020).

[3] Kakutani, Pandemic Notebook: Finding Solace and Connection, in Classic Books,  New York Times-Book Review (May17, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

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[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 20): Oprah Winfrey’s Challenge to the Pandemic Classes of 2020   

On May 15, Oprah Winfrey gave an inspiring online commencement address to all graduating high school and college members of the classes of 2020, the pandemic classes. Here is what she said.[1]

“[N]ever has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion, and energy and hope.”

“Every one of us is now being called to graduate, to step toward something, even though we don’t know what. Every one of us is likewise now being called to temper the parts of ourselves that must fall away, to refine who we are, how we define success and what is genuinely meaningful. And you, the real graduates on this day, you will lead us.”

“It’s vital that you learn, and we all learn, to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown. It’s really OK to not have all the answers. The answers will come for sure, if you can accept not knowing long enough to get still and stay still long enough for new thoughts to take root in your more quiet, deeper, truer self. The noise of the world drowns out the sound of you. You have to get still to listen.”

“Can you, the class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again, but how to create a new and more evolved normal, a world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative, whole? We need you to do this, because the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long. For poor communities without adequate access to health care, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For incarcerated people, with no ability to social distance, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For every person burdened by bias and bigotry, for every black man and woman living in their American skin, fearful to even go for a jog, inequality is a pre-existing condition.”

“You have the power to stand for, to fight for, and vote for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. This moment is your invitation to use your education to begin to heal our afflictions by applying the best of what you’ve learned in your head, and felt in your heart. This moment has shown us what Dr. King tried to tell us. Decades ago, he understood that ‘we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.’”

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. If humanity is a global body, every soul is a cell in that body, and we are being challenged like never before to keep the global body healthy by keeping ourselves healthy in mind and body and spirit. As all the traditions affirm, the deepest self-care is at once caring for the human family.”

We “see this so clearly with essential workers. Look who turns out to be essential: teachers — your teachers, health care workers, of course, the people stocking grocery shelves, the cashiers, the truck drivers, food providers, those who are caring for your grandparents, those who clean the places where we work and shop and carry out our daily lives. We are all here because they, at great and profound risk, are still providing their essential service.”

“What will your essential service be? What really matters to you? The fact that you’re alive means you’ve been given a reprieve to think deeply about that question. How will you use what matters in service to yourself, your community and the world?”

Comments

I concur that “the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long.”

It also has illuminated the many antiquated aspects of the American government that need to be eliminated or substantially reformed—the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate in which every state has two senators regardless of population, the Senate’s filibuster rule, the needlessly complex structure for voting that allows some states to suppress voting by minorities or citizens who favor the other political party from those in charge. The more specific need this year is prevent the re-election of Donald Trump and any attempt by him and his allies to subvert the election.

So too there are many aspects of the American economy that need to be substantially reformed, such as the immense differences in compensation of corporate CEO’s and the essential hourly employees. For example, the CEO of Target Corporation had total compensation of $21.6 million for fiscal 2019-20 while “essential” employees in its stores in April 2019 had their hourly wage boosted to $13 with the goal of reaching $15 by the end of 2020 and on March 22, 2020, were advised that they would receive an additional $2 per hour through at least May 2. [2]

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[1] Winfrey, Virtual Commencement Address, Facebook (May 15, 2020); Bogei-Burroughs, Oprah to Class of 2020: ‘What Will Your Essential Service Be?’, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Kennedy, CEO Pay Watch: Target’s Brian Cornell made $21.6 million last fiscal year, StarTribune (April 23, 2020); Reagan, Target raises its minimum wage to $13 per hour, with goal of reaching $15 by end of 2020, CNBC (April 4, 2019); Wilson, Target gives raises, bonuses to employees during coronavirus pandemic, WTHR 13 (Mar. 24, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflict in Responses to Coronavirus Pandemic       

Fareed Zakaria, a noted political commentator, sees class conflict in different responses to the coronavirus pandemic.[1]

He starts by noting that today many “wonder why partisanship has become so strong in the United States that people will not listen to experts, even at the risk of their own health.” This observation, however, obscures a broader distrust.

That broader distrust, says Zakaria, is illuminated by a book, The New Class War, by Michael Lind, an author and professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of PUblic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the U.S. today, according to Lind, there is an “overclass” that dominates “government, the economy, and the culture.” The members of this overclass “tend to be urban, college-educated professionals, often with a postgraduate degree. That makes them quite distinct from much of the rest of the country. Only 36 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree, and only 13 percent have a master’s or more. And yet, the top echelons everywhere are filled with this ‘credentialed overclass.’”

“For many non-college-educated people, especially those living in rural areas, there is a deep alienation from this new elite. They see the overclass as enacting policies that are presented as good for the whole country but really mostly benefit people from the ruling class, whose lives have gotten better over the past few decades while the rest are left behind. In this view, trade and immigration help college-educated professionals who work for multinational companies but hurt blue-collar workers. So when they hear from ‘experts’ about the inevitability of globalization and technological change and the need to accept it, they resist. It does not resonate with their lived experience.”

This especially is true now during the pandemic, writes Zakaria. ‘Imagine you are an American who works with his hands — a truck driver, a construction worker, an oil rig mechanic — and you have just lost your job because of the lockdowns, as have more than 36 million people. You turn on the television and hear medical experts, academics, technocrats and journalists explain that we must keep the economy closed — in other words, keep you unemployed — because public health is important. All these people making the case have jobs, have maintained their standards of living and in fact are now in greater demand. They feel as though they are doing important work. You, on the other hand, have lost your job. You feel a sense of worthlessness, and you’re terrified about your family’s day-to-day survival. Is it so hard to understand why people like this might be skeptical of the experts?”

This class divide is also seen in the differing “job flexibilities” of U.S. employees. “Of the top 25 percent of income earners, more than 60 percent can stay home and still do their jobs. Of the bottom 25 percent, fewer than 10 percent can do the same.” The latter know that “it is a luxury to be able to work from home.”

Therefore, Zakaria concludes “we need to hear many voices as we make these difficult decisions [about responding to the pandemic], and that those making the decisions need to have empathy for all Americans — those whose lives are at risk, but also those whose lives have been turned upside down in other ways by this horrible disease.”

Conclusion

The Michael Lind book was also cited before the pandemic by Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, as seeing the current polarization as “the consolidation of economic power by a ‘managerial’ upper class’” and the resulting weakening of “any institution — from churches and families to union shops and local industries — that might grant real power to groups outside the gilded city, the Silicon Valley bubble, the Ivy League gate.” This phenomenon coupled with libertarianism of Regan and Thatcher promoted “economic and social permissiveness . . . [and] a new class divide, between thriving meritocratic hubs and a declining and demoralized heartland, . . . [that] explains both the frequency of populist irruptions and their consistent futility.”[2]

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[1]  Zakaria, Experts have jobs. They need to understand those who don’t, Wash. Post (May 14, 2020).

[2] Douthat, The Many Polarizations of America, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2020);  Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 15, 2020).