Pandemic Journal (# 17): More Demonstrations of Trump’s Incompetence

Pandemic Journal (# 11) set forth at least some of the reasons why, in my opinion, Donald Trump is utterly incompetent as president. Every day seems to bring more proof for that conclusion, and I prefer to avoid documenting those reasons so that I have time to do something more personally enriching.

However, two recent incidents are so outrageous that I cannot let them go without adding them to his many sins.

 Trump’s Interview in the Lincoln Memorial[1]

On Sunday, May 3, Trump arranged to have his interview by two Fox News anchors (Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum) televised from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During the interview, the President said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic may reach as high as 100,000, which was twice as high as he had forecast only two weeks ago. He also claimed that his efforts had prevented that total  from reaching “a million two, a million four, a million five, that’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher, it’s possible higher than 2.2million.” Nevertheless, the President said he favored lifting the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.

While he admitted he had been warned about the virus on January 23, he said it was presented as “not a big deal.”  A week later, on January 30, he decided to block entry to the U.S. by most foreign nationals coming from China, but he said that was not caused by the earlier warning.

“I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln – nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”

Max Boot, an historian, best-selling author, foreign policy analyst and Washington Post columnist, places this Trump interview in a broader context. Boot observes, “We are in the midst of a once-in-a century crisis, with death totals having already exceeded the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War and unemployment numbers approaching Great Depression levels. We are desperate for leadership of the kind provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We need a president who will empathize with an ailing nation while explaining why the current sacrifice is necessary on the road to victory.”

Instead, says Boot, “we have a president who threw a pity party for himself at the Lincoln Memorial, claiming he is ‘treated worse’ than a president who was assassinated. The Civil War leader whom Trump resembles is not the resolute Lincoln but the failed Gen. George McClellan — who was indecisive, conceited and intolerant of criticism.”

Dana Milbank, another Washington Post columnist, agrees. He says, “Only a man of Trump’s peculiar sense of victimhood could believe that he has been “treated worse” than a predecessor killed by an assassin’s bullet. And a review of press criticism of Lincoln confirms, as expected, that Trump’s self-pity is as silly as it sounds.”

In response to criticism about holding the interview in the Lincoln Memorial that his aides had arranged by getting the Secretary of Interior to waive a rule against political events inside the Memorial, Trump even said that this location was Fox’s choice, not his.

 Trump’s Response to President George W. Bush[2]

On May 2, former President George W. Bush’s three-minute videotaped segment was presented on TV as part of a 24-hour live-streamed “The Call to Unite” that also featured former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts. Martin Luther King III, Sean Combs, Quincy Jones, Naomi Judd, Andrew Yang and others.

Mr. Bush said, in part, “Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” while in the background were music and photographs of medical workers helping victims of the virus and of ordinary Americans wearing masks. Bush then concluded, “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise.” He did not mention President Trump.

Early the next morning, Trump fired off a tweet. First, he paraphrased a Fox News personality as saying, “Oh by the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” Then Trump added, “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!”

A Washington Post columnist, David Von Drehle, violated his own rule for not commenting on Trump’s Twitter comments by doing so for this one because it was “so nakedly revealing of its author’s values and character.” This Trump Tweet “embraced and simplified the idea that Bush’s remarks should properly be viewed through the prism of Trump’s political fortunes. . . . No doubt the president’s florid narcissism explains part of this reaction . . . . As the only noteworthy occupant of his own psychological state, Trump seems to think everything is about him. . . . Yet here, a plea for national unity [by a former president] is the occasion for a presidential rebuke. The only sensible explanation: the president has no interest in unity. . . . Bush’s statement hit Trump like an indictment. He knows that unifying the public is not on his agenda. He has no interest in bringing us together.”

Drehle concludes, “Our life-or-death struggle with a new disease has become, for Trump, just another chance to divide the country, to leverage resentments, to fuel suspicion, to antagonize his critics — in the slim hope that he’ll galvanize his supporters while demoralizing the opposition. That’s why he thinks the Bush statement is about him.”

More General Criticism of Trump[3]

Thomas Edsall, a New York Times columnist and a full-time member of the faculty at Columbia University Journalism School, quoted the following observations about Trump from prominent academics:

  • Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, said that Trump has responded “to the [coronavirus] crisis with his now-familiar playbook: blaming others, denying responsibility, invoking racial differences and ‘foreign’ dangers, and trying to discredit honest reporting so that he can sell a false narrative about the great job he’s doing.”
  • Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote, “The U.S. government’s pandemic leadership has been its own special brand of catastrophe. The American president denied the threat, rejected scientific expertise, spread misinformation, and left state and local governments to fend for themselves in public trust violations of the highest order. With shambolic self-governance, the U.S. government has placed its own citizens in unnecessary peril, while sidelining itself from acting as a global crisis leader in a way that is unprecedented in the last seven decades. China is all too happy to fill the vacuum.”

As noted in a previous post, George Conway and several other prominent Republicans have formed a group (The Lincoln Project) to defeat Trump’s re-election this November. Conway recently reported that Trump had responded to this group in an early morning Tweet on May 5, attacking the members of this Project as “‘LOSERS,’ ‘loser types,’ ‘crazed” and ‘a disgrace to Honest Abe.’ About me, he said, ‘I don’t know what Kellyanne [Conway, a Trump aide] did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad.”

This latest example of Trump’s outbursts prompted George Conway to say, “Now, it’s more obvious than ever. Trump’s narcissism deadens any ability he might otherwise have had to carry out the duties of a president in the manner the Constitution requires. He’s so self-obsessed, he can only act for himself, not for the nation. It’s why he was impeached, and why he should have been removed from office.”

“And it’s why he reacts with such rage. He fears the truth. He fears being revealed for what he truly is. Extreme narcissists exaggerate their achievements and talents, and so Trump has spent his life building up a false image of himself — not just for others, but for himself, to protect his deeply fragile ego. He lies endlessly, not just in the way sociopaths do, which is to con others, but also to delude himself. He claims to be a ‘genius,’ even though he apparently can’t spellcan’t punctuatecan’t do math and lacks geographic literacy, and even though his own appointees have privately called him a ‘moron,’ an ‘idiot,’ a ‘dope,’ and ‘dumb.’  Now, God help us, he fancies himself an expert in virology and infectious diseases.”

George Conway concluded, “Trump’s lying, his self-regard, his self-soothing, his lack of empathy, his narcissistic rage, his contempt for norms, rules, laws, facts and simple truths — have all come home to roost. Now he sees his poll numbers fall accordingly, and lashes out with ever-increasing anger. For deep in his psyche he knows the truth. Because he fears being revealed as a fake or deranged, he’ll call others fake or deranged. Because he fears losing, he’ll call them losers instead.”

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[1] Rogers, Most Events in the Lincoln Memorial Are Banned. Trump Got an Exception, N.Y. Times (May 4, 2020); Baker, Trump foresees Virus Death Toll as high as 100,000 in the United States, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Wolfe, Dishonest Don’s Lincoln backdrop highlights his monumental errors, Guardian (May 6, 2020); Boot, Trump’s dithering proves one thing: We’re at war without a leader, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020); Milbank, ’I believe I am treated worse.’ Trump says. As if, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[2] Baker, George W. Bush Calls for End to Pandemic Partisanship, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Von Drehle, I usually ignore all Trump’s tweets. Not this one, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[3] Edsall, Why Isn’t Trump Riding High? N.Y. Times (May 6, 2020); George Conway, George Conway: Trump went ballistic at me on Twitter. Here’s why he reacts with such rage, Wash. Post (May 6, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses

Sunday morning’s news outlets reported that worldwide there now are over 300,000 persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  and at least 12,944 have died of this infection while the U.S. statistics are more than 24,300 cases and more than 370 deaths. My State of Minnesota has 169 confirmed cases and its first death while the state’s most populous county (Hennepin with the City of Minneapolis), where I live, has  57 confirmed cases and no deaths.

This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic.

This first post will focus on some of today’s overall perspectives from those who know about what is happening: Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who has talked with a lot of experts, and Michael Osterholm, now at the University of Minnesota as Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School.[1]

Other posts will discuss other important developments in the crisis as well as his personal reactions to these problems.

Kristof’s Analysis[2]

One of the most disturbing Sunday articles was by Nicholas Kristof, who set forth what experts are seeing as the “worst case” and “best case” for the U.S. in March 2021, one year from now.

Worst Case

“More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.”

The U.S. “badly bungled testing, and President Trump repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear,’ and insisting he wasn’t ‘concerned at all.’ . . .The United States has still done only a bit more than 10 percent as many tests per capita as Canada, Austria and Denmark.”

“By some counts, the United States is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory, and it’s difficult to see how America can pirouette from the path of Italy to that of South Korea. The United States may already have 100,000 infected citizens — nobody knows. That’s too many to trace. Indeed, one can argue that the U.S. is not only on the same path as Italy but is also less prepared, for America has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does — and a shorter life expectancy even in the best of times.”

“Mitre, a nonprofit that does work on health care, calculated that coronavirus cases are doubling more quickly in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.” Two experts’ models suggest “that up to 366,000 I.C.U. beds might be needed in the United States for coronavirus patients at one time, more than 10 times the number available.”

Therefore, the U.S. “should be urgently ramping up investment in vaccines and therapies, addressing the severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment, and giving retired physicians and military medics legal authority to practice in a crisis.” But that is not happening. Moreover, the U.S. “isn’t protecting health workers with the same determination” as China did after its initial failure to do so.“In the worst-case scenario, will social services collapse in some areas? Will order fray? Gun sales are increasing, because some people expect chaos and crime.” The U.S. “is in a weaker position than some other countries to confront the virus because it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage, and the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. With chronic diseases, the burden of these gaps is felt primarily by the poor; with infectious diseases, the burden will be shared by all Americans.”

Best Case

“Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.”

According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out.” Another expert,  Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor at Stanford Medical School, agreed. Two other lethal coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, both petered out, and that is possible here. “My hope is that Covid-19 will not survive.”

“Several countries have shown that decisive action can turn the tide on Covid-19, at least for a time.” This especially is true for Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that “responded with the standard epidemiological tool kit: vigilance and rapid response, testing, isolating the sick, tracing contacts, quarantining those exposed, ensuring social distancing and providing reliable information. They did not shut down their entire countries.”

It is possible that the U.S. and other Northern Hemisphere nations soon will experience warmer weather that will dampen the coronavirus as was true with two of the four other coronaviruses.

“There is hope that some antiviral medicines currently in clinical trials will be successful.”

Finally there is hope that “the coronavirus may be less lethal than was originally feared, so long as health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Yet another expert, “Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, summed up all of these considerations: ‘I’m not pessimistic. I think this can work.’ She thinks it will take eight weeks of social distancing to have a chance to slow the virus, and success will depend on people changing behaviors and on hospitals not being overrun. ‘If warm weather helps, if we can get these drugs, if we can get companies to produce more ventilators, we have a window to tamp this down.’”

Our Responses

“This crisis should be a wake-up call to address long-term vulnerabilities. That means providing universal health coverage and paid sick leave.”  The coronavirus legislation adopted last week does not do that. “It guarantees sick leave to only about one-fifth of private-sector workers. It’s a symbol of the inadequacy of America’s preparedness.”

“More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. . . . The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.”

Osterholm’s Perspective[3]

U.S. Difficulty in Appreciating Risk of Pandemics

First, the U.S. government and citizens “had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … . We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.”

Second, “we tend to lack creative imagination. {Yet those ]who knew health care knew that health care [had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”  In addition, there has been “no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China.”

Third, “I think it’s human nature to not want to believe this” risk.

This January Osterholm wrote a notification for the CIDRAP leadership forum, saying, “ “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And what has happened in Wuhan [China] will happen in other places.” But this warning had no impact on U.S. policies.

 U.S. Needs ‘New Normal’

 U.S. and others need to find a new normal, a way to live with COVID-19. We “can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work.” Instead, we need a national goal.

We must “make every effort to … protect those most vulnerable. And we [need to] continue to emphasize social distancing, … [and] keep the hospitals from being overrun. We [must] keep doing that until we get a vaccine. . . . It won’t be perfect. Some people will get sick, some may die.”

“People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk.” They want the truth, and they are not getting it from the Trump administration.

“[A recent British scientific paper] said crowd size really makes no difference. We really have no data on crowd size. Their modeling says we have to have contact … that if you shook hands with all 50,000 people in an arena, you got a problem. But if you didn’t, the risk of transmission is not nearly as great as people think it is. We also don’t have good data that we have major transmission in schools from kids to kids and that they take it home to Mom and Dad.”

“Singapore did not close schools. Hong Kong did. We saw no difference. . . . {On the other hand,] I do know it makes a difference in saving lives in a hospital when you take out 20% of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who can’t work because they’re at home [to watch their kids]. I know that is a risk in putting grandparents in so that some can keep working.”

He is hopeful about some new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied, but that, he says, is not a strategy.

Conclusion

As a retired lawyer in his 80’s with no experience or expertise on these global health issues, I concur in Professor Osterholm’s assertion that others and I want the truth from our government and national and local leaders. That truth will include admissions that they do not yet know certain important factors, that they are investigating those issues in a focused, disciplined, scientific manner and that the rest of us need to follow developments in the pandemic and follow the straightforward instructions: wash your hands frequently and carefully, maintain at least six-feet social distancing with other people and do not join groups of (10?) or more people. As noted above, other posts will explore my personal reactions to all of this situation.

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[1] Osterholm also currently holds, and has held, other important positions in this field and is the co-author of “the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them.” (CiDRAP, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH.)

[2] Kristof, The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst, N.Y. Times (Mar. 20, 2020).

[3] Burcum, Coronavirus pandemic: What’s ‘normal’ now? What’s next? An interview with Michael Osterholm, StarTribune (Mar. 22, 2020). /

 

U.S. State Department Reiterates Criticism of Cuba’s Human Rights

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world and repeated its criticisms of Cuba on this subject.

Secretary Pompeo’s Introduction of the Report[1]

The Secretary used these words to announce the release of the report:  “As our founding documents remind us, nothing is more fundamental to our national identity than our belief in the rights and dignity of every single human being.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence.”  With the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 as its foundation, “The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is exploring the deep roots of America’s foundational belief in these ideals, and I look forward to receiving the commission’s work sometime around the Fourth of July of this year, a fitting time.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then shifted to highlighting the report’s discussion of “human rights abuses . . . that are happening in China, Iran, Venezuela, and in Cuba.” His comments on Cuba focused entirely on the situation of Cuban dissident José Daniel Ferrer, which will be covered in a subsequent post.

The Executive Summary of the Report on Cuba[2]

 “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the republic, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP). Despite ratifying a new constitution on February 24, Cuba remains a one-party system in which the constitution states the CCP is the only legal political party and the highest political entity of the state.”

“The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“Significant human rights issues included: reports of abuse of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government severely restricted freedom of the press, used criminal libel laws against persons critical of leadership, and engaged in censorship and site blocking. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and severe restrictions of religious freedom. Political participation was restricted to members of the ruling party, and elections were not free and fair. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.”

“On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

Some Negative Details of the Report

Disappearance (Section 1.B): “There were confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were multiple reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were unknown for days or weeks because the government did not register these detentions; many detentions occurred in unregistered sites.”

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Section 1.C):

  • “There were reports that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse by prison officials or by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards.”
  • “There were reports police assaulted detainees or were complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators.”
  • “State security officials frequently deployed to countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where they trained and supported other organizations in their use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses, and sometimes participated in them directly.”
  • “Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners.”
  • “The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.”
  • “The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations.”

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention (Section 1.D):

  • “Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions increased, becoming a routine government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity.”
  • Authorities “routinely ignored” the requirement to “furnish suspects a signed ‘report of detention,’ noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search.”
  • “Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees.”
  • “The law allows for ‘preventive detention’ for up to four years of individuals not charged with an actual crime, based on a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” which is defined as the ‘special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms,’ which is sometimes used “to silence peaceful political opponents.”
  • “There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period;” that bail “typically [was] not granted to those arrested for political activities;” that “police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning;” that “authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely;” that officials often detain “suspects longer than the legally mandated period without informing them of the nature of the arrest, allowing them to contact family members, or affording them legal counsel;” that the “government [often] held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases.”

Denial of Fair Public Trial (Section 1.E):

  • “[P]olitically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving ‘state security’ or ‘extraordinary circumstances.’”
  • “[C]ourts regularly failed to protect or observe these [due process] rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.”
  • “Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory.” In cases involving “‘crimes against the security of the state,’ defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed.”
  • For charges of ‘precriminal dangerousness,’ “the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred.”
  • “The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.”
  • There are “political prisoners,’ but details are difficult to obtain.
  • “No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.”

Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence (Section 1.E): 

  • “Reportedly government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.”
  • “Covert techniques to obtain information . . . . included information gathering by undercover officers, voice recording, location monitoring, filming, communications intercepts, and surreptitious access to computer systems.”
  • “The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities.”

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press” (Section 2.A):

  • “Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.”
  • “The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive.”
  • “[S]ome religious groups reported increased restrictions to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings.”
  • “The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information.”
  • “The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations in the country.”
  • “The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered ‘counterrevolutionary’ or critical of the government.”
  • “The government used a combination of website blocking, pressure on website operators, arrests, intimidation, imprisonment, and extralegal surveillance to censor information critical to the regime and to silence its critics.”
  • “The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing ‘revolutionary ideology’ and ‘discipline.’”

Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association (Section 2.B):

  • The constitutional “limited right of assembly . . . is subject to the requirement that it may not be ‘exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.’ The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons.”
  • “Independent activists, as well as political parties other than the CCP, faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. The government refused to allow independent demonstrators or public meetings by human rights groups or any others critical of any government activity.”
  • “The government, using undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents, organized “acts of repudiation” in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”

Freedom of Movement (Section 2.D):

  • “There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return.”
  • “The government also barred citizens and persons of Cuban descent living abroad from entering the country, apparently on grounds that they were critical of the government or for having “abandoned” postings abroad.”

Protection of Refugees (Section 2.F): “Cuba is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention [Treaty].”

Freedom to Participate in the Political Process (Section 3):

  • “[C]itizens do not have the ability to form political parties or choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from political parties other than the CCP. The government forcefully and consistently retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.”
  • “The new constitution includes many sections that restrict citizens’ ability to participate fully in political processes by deeming the CCP as the state’s only legal political party and the ‘superior driving force of the society and the state.’”

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government (Section 4): The government did not effectively enforce the law against corruption.

Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights (Section 5):

  • “The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.”
  • “The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored or promoted human rights.”
  • “The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, its affiliated organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to prisoners and detainees.”

Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons (Section 6):

  • “The government specifically targeted activists organizing a campaign called Women United for Our Rights that asked the state to update data on crimes against women, train officials to handle crimes against women, and define gender-based violence in the law.”
  • “A large number of persons with disabilities who depended on the state for their basic needs struggled to survive due to lack of resources and inattention.”
  • “Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in positions of prominence within the tourism industry, media, and government.”
  • Although Cuba has “a history of state-sanctioned events in support of the LGBTI community,” several “unrecognized NGOs that promote LGBTI human rights faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining (Section 7.A): “The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. use politically motivated and discriminatory dismissals against those who criticized the government’s economic or political model.”

Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor (Section 7.B): “Many citizens were employed by state-run entities contracted by foreign entities inside the country and abroad to provide labor, often highly skilled labor such as doctors or engineers. These employees received a small fraction of the salaries paid to the state-run company, often less than 10 percent. For example, in the “Mais Medicos” program run in cooperation with the Pan-American Health Organization in Brazil, of $1.3 billion the Brazilian government paid for the services of Cuban doctors, less than 1 percent–only $125 million–was paid to the doctors who provided the services. The rest went into the Cuban government’s coffers. Doctors in the program complained of being overworked and not earning enough to support their families. Former participants described coercion, nonpayment of wages, withholding of their passports, and restriction on their movement, which the government denied. Similar practices occurred in the tourism sector.”

Comments

The U.S.’ repeated allegation that Cuban medical personnel on foreign missions are engaged in illegal forced labor does not make it so. Moreover, there is a strong legal argument against that allegation.[3]

There may well be legitimate Cuban arguments against the other allegations mentioned above, which Cuba would need to assert and prove.

More importantly, the U.S. allegations ignore the long history of U.S. overt and covert hostile actions against the much smaller and militarily weaker island nation, and hence Cuba’s well-founded need to be suspicious of its domestic critics and to take some actions against those critics. This, however, does not provide Cuba with legitimate excuses for all of those actions.

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[3] See, e.g.,  these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); U.S. Litigation Over Cuba Medical Mission Program (Feb. 12, 2020); Cuba Response to U,S, Campaign Against Cuba’s Medical Missions (Feb. 13, 2020).

 

Are Developed Countries Decadent?

Yes, provocatively says Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist, in a recent lengthy column that deserves reflection by us all. [1}

Introduction

He starts with the assertion that in the 21st century the U.S. and other developed countries “are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.” In other words, we “really inhabit an era in which repetition is more the norm than invention; in which stalemate rather than revolution stamps our politics; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private life alike; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, consistently underdeliver.”

This is an overall depiction of “decadence,” which Douthat defines as “economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development .” This “stagnation is often a consequence of previous development.”

He then expands upon this opinion by examining current economic, social and political factors.

Economics

“The decadent economy is not an impoverished one. The United States [for example] is an extraordinarily wealthy country, its middle class prosperous beyond the dreams of centuries past, its welfare state effective at easing the pain of recessions, and the last decade of growth has (slowly) raised our living standard to a new high after the losses from the Great Recession.”

But, Douthat says, the U.S. and other developed canopies are not dynamic. “American entrepreneurship has been declining since the 1970s. . . . [There is] a slowdown, a mounting difficulty in achieving breakthroughs [in science and technology].”

One of the sources for this assertion was a 2017 paper by a group of economists, “Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?” These economists asserted, ““We present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.”

Another source was Northwestern University economist, Robert Gordon, whom Douthat describes as “one of the most persuasive theorist of stagnation.” Gordon had concluded, “the period from 1840 to 1970 featured dramatic growth and innovation across multiple arenas — energy and transportation and medicine and agriculture and communication and the built environment. Whereas in the last two generations, progress has become increasingly monodimensional — all tech and nothing more.”

Society

“America is a more peaceable country than it was in 1970 or 1990, with lower crime rates and safer streets and better-behaved kids. But it’s also a country where that supposedly most American of qualities, wanderlust, has markedly declined: Americans no longer “go west” (or east or north or south) in search of opportunity the way they did 50 years ago; the rate at which people move between states has fallen from 3.5 percent in the early 1970s to 1.4 percent in 2010. . . . Nor do Americans change jobs as often as they once did.”

“Those well-behaved young people are more depressed than prior cohorts, less likely to drive drunk or get pregnant but more tempted toward self-harm. They are also the most medicated generation in history, from the drugs prescribed for A.D.H.D. to the antidepressants offered to anxious teens, and most of the medications are designed to be calming, offering a smoothed-out experience rather than a spiky high.”

“[P]eople are also less likely to invest in the future in the most literal of ways. The United States birthrate was once an outlier among developed countries, but since the Great Recession, it has descended rapidly, converging with the wealthy world’s general below-replacement norm. This demographic decline worsens economic stagnation; economists reckoning with its impact keep finding stark effects. A 2016 analysis found that a 10 percent increase in the fraction of the population over 60 decreased the growth rate of states’ per capita G.D.P. by 5.5 percent. A 2018 paper found that companies in younger labor markets are more innovative; another found that the aging of society helped explain the growth of monopolies and the declining rate of start-ups.”

“Sterility feeds stagnation, which further discourages childbearing, which sinks society ever-deeper into old age — makes demographic decline a clear example of how decadence overtakes a civilization. For much of Western history, declining birthrates reflected straightforward gains to human welfare: victories over infant mortality, over backbreaking agrarian economies, over confining expectations for young women. But once we crossed over into permanent below-replacement territory, the birth dearth began undercutting the very forces (youth, risk -taking, dynamism) necessary for continued growth, meaning that any further gains to individual welfare are coming at the future’s expense.”

        Politics

“From Trump’s Washington to the capitals of Europe, Western politics is now polarized between anti-establishment forces that are unprepared to competently govern and an establishment that’s too disliked to effectively rule.”

“The structures of the Western system, the United States Constitution and administrative state, the half-built federalism of the European Union, are everywhere creaking and everywhere critiqued. But our stalemates make them impervious to substantial reform, let alone to revolution. The most strident European nationalists don’t even want to leave the European Union, and Trump’s first term has actually been much like Obama’s second, with failed legislation and contested executive orders, and policy made mostly by negotiation between the bureaucracy and the courts.”

        Douthat’s Conclusion

“Complaining about decadence is a luxury good — a feature of societies where the mail is delivered, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is plenty of entertainment at your fingertips. Human beings can still live vigorously amid a general stagnation, be fruitful amid sterility, be creative amid repetition. And the decadent society, unlike the full dystopia, allows those signs of contradictions to exist, which means that it’s always possible to imagine and work toward renewal and renaissance.”

“So you can even build a case for decadence, not as a falling-off or disappointing end, but as a healthy balance between the misery of poverty and the dangers of growth for growth’s sake. A sustainable decadence, if you will, in which the crucial task for 21st-century humanity would be making the most of a prosperous stagnation: learning to temper our expectations and live within limits; making sure existing resources are distributed more justly; using education to lift people into the sunlit uplands of the creative class; and doing everything we can to help poorer countries transition successfully into our current position. Not because meliorism can cure every ill, but because the more revolutionary alternatives are too dangerous, and a simple greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number calculus requires that we just keep the existing system running and give up more ambitious dreams.”

“The longer a period of stagnation continues, the narrower the space for fecundity and piety, memory and invention, creativity and daring. The unresisted drift of decadence can lead into a territory of darkness, whose sleekness covers over a sickness unto death.”

“So decadence must be critiqued and resisted . . . . by the hope that where there’s stability, there also might eventually be renewal, that decadence need not give way to collapse to be escaped, that the renaissance can happen without the misery of an intervening dark age.”

This Blogger’s Conclusion

The societal facts cited by Douthat are well known, and this blog has commented about the economic challenges presented by lower birth rates and aging populations of the U.S. [2] and of his home state of Minnesota. [3] Therefore, this blogger has been and is an advocate for increasing U.S. welcoming  refugees and other immigrants in accordance with the U.S. history of immigration, which should be an U.S. advantage over other countries. [4] Douthat, however, does not mention immigration. Nor does he mention the high costs of raising children in the U.S. as a deterrent to having children. This blog also has discussed declining birth rates and aging populations in Japan, China and Cuba. [5]

This societal situation is also shown by recent U.S. declines in important international socio-political indices: freedom of the press, human development, level of corruption, income inequality, global peace and social progress. These may well relate to Douthat’s thesis.[6]

I agree with Douthat’s assessment of the political scene at least in the U.S. In fact, I believe that the U.S. Constitution is obsolete in so many ways, especially in its anti-democratic U.S. Senate which gives greater weight to land than to people, its filibuster rule, its Electoral College for electing the president and to the difficulty of amending that document.

Douthat’s discussion of current economic conditions presented new facts and analyses for this blogger. As a result, I will be studying Douthat’s forthcoming book, examining the paper by Robert Gordon that is hyperlinked in the column; finding and reading the paper by an unnamed group of economists that is discussed in the column; reading the over 1,000 comments on the column published by the Times; and searching for other opinions on these issues.

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[1] Douthat. The Age of Decadence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 2020). He will expand on this topic in his book: The Age of Decadence: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success (to be released Feb. 25, 2020). An earlier column provided a slice of his analysis in discussing the second decade of our current century: The Decade of Disillusionment, N.Y. Times ( Dec. 28, 2019).      

[2] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population (Aug. 14, 2019); Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth (Jan. 10, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb.16, 2020).

[3] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Slower Growth Projected for Minnesota Population in the 2020’s (Dec. 29, 2019).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Another Report About U.S. Need for More Immigrants (Aug. 25, 2019); Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Prominent Economist Says Cuts in U.S. immigration Threaten U.S. Economy and Innovation (Oct. 12, 2019); Immigrants Come to U.S. To Work (Jan. 31, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigrants To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb. 16, 2020).

[5] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Japan Implements New Law Allowing Increased Immigration (Sept. 15, 2019); Cuba’s Aging and Declining Population Continues (Dec. 13, 2019); Continued Demographic Squeeze on Japan (Dec. 26, 2019); “The Chinese Population Crisis” (Jan. 21, 2020); Cuba’s Low Birth Rate, Increasing Emigration and Declining Population (Feb. 3, 2020).

[6] Declining U.S. Rankings in Important Socio-Poltical Indices, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2019).

“The Chinese Population Crisis”

This was the title of a recent column by the New York Times’ columnist, Ross Douthat.[1]

I was expecting to read about increases in that country’s massive population.

Instead, it was about a birth rate that was below replacement level, which Douthat said was “one of the most important geopolitical facts of the 21st century.” Yes, it is true that the U.S. and many other developed countries are also experiencing declining birth rates,[2] but it was China and some other developing countries joining this “club” that was creating the crisis.

Although China has experienced amazing economic growth in recent years, “Chinese per capita G.D.P. is still about one-third or one-fourth the size of neighboring countries like South Korea and Japan. And yet its birthrate has converged with the rich world much more quickly and completely — which has two interrelated implications, both of them grim.”

“First, China will have to pay for the care of a vast elderly population without the resources available to richer societies facing the same challenge.”

“Second, China’s future growth prospects will dim with every year of below-replacement birth rates, because low fertility creates a self-reinforcing cycle — in which a less youthful society loses dynamism and growth, which reduces economic support for would-be parents, which reduces birthrates, which reduces growth.”

Moreover, as “  Lyman Stone writes in the latest National Review, the human race is increasingly facing a “global fertility crisis,” not just a European or American or Japanese baby bust. It’s a crisis that threatens ever-slower growth in the best case; in the worst-case, to cite a recent paper by the Stanford economist Charles Jones, it risks “an Empty Planet result: knowledge and living standards stagnate for a population that gradually vanishes.”

“As we contemplate the demographic challenge of the future, we should reserve particular opprobrium for those who chose, in the arrogance of their supposed humanitarianism, to use coercive and foul means to make the great problem of the 21st century worse.”

One commentator on this column said that Douthat missed an important fact exasperating China’s problem…–the enormous gender imbalance of . . .[its] ‘one child’ years. Boys were overwhelmingly favored, so there are many fewer women to birth those babies. One man can impregnate many women, but each woman can only birth at most one baby a year for a few decades (assuming she’s willing to be nothing but a baby machine, ehich is a huge stretch.”

A Hong Kong financial reporter suggests that China’s lower birth rates and aging population should increase the demand (and, therefore, higher prices and lower interest rates) for Chinese government bonds. As a result, buying such bonds now may lead to capital gains.[3]

Conclusion

We should thank Douthat for pointing out the important issues raised by China’s declining birth rate although the “Empty Planet” scenario seems absurd.

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[1] Douthat, The Chinese Population Crisis, N.Y. Times (Jan. 19, 2020).

[2] E.g., Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2020).

[3] Bird, How to Invest in China’s Perilous Demography, W.S.J. (Jan. 20, 2020).