Archives for category: Covid-19


I thought I would discuss this Atlantic article in the context of political love languages, but there are so many other problems with Conor Friedersdorf’s Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously that I’m just going to get into it as a political discussion.

Friedersdorf argues several points:

  • That the discussion isn’t as clear-cut as pro-human and pro-economy. However, he goes on to argue the pro-economy stance much of the way through.
  • That because we don’t know how long a solution will take, or if we will reach a solution, “Americans should carefully consider the potential costs of prolonged shutdowns lest they cause more deaths or harm to the vulnerable than they spare.”
  • That supply chain interruptions and a prolonged depression are equally great risks to life and not to be discounted.
  • That crashed healthcare and education systems are also hard to recover.

He cites Michael Klare’s warning in The Nation that “Even where supply chains remain intact, many poor countries lack the funds to pay for imported food,” he explained. “This has long been a problem for the least-developed countries, which often depend on international food aid” This is not new. Starvation and poor access  to food has always been a hazard because of (among other things) how international trade and exploitation are arranged now and have been since the admitted colonial times. (These places are still colonies – of multinationals now, not other countries, but still.) When we talk about developing/developed countries, there’s often the assumption of dependence on foreign assistance. The problem here is that there are so many internal and external forces at play that keep such countries in the ’not developed’ column. Using this as an excuse not to work on those issues is just a continuance of the problem.

And note the absence of discussion of the plague of locusts in Africa – no global locust watch dashboards but the problem still exists, and people will starve because of it.

Note, too, that there’s currently enough food gin the US supply chain if we’re processing it carefully and not sending it to China. The web of trade can’t be brought back but government stimulus – paying a fair wage for fair work harvesting the food that’s rotting on the vine right now and planting for the next season will feed more people. But again, it seems to be a matter in American politics and the US media that dividing people works in some folks’ favour, and bringing people together to support the effort and each other runs counter to that. This might be a dream that free people will do manual labor in the absence of other labor to do, or in the interest of the country not going underfed in a land of plenty.

The part of the article that really got my blood boiling is the assertion that this crashing economy won’t leave the healthcare systems standing, sourced to Esther O’Reilly’s Arc Digital article Economic Costs Are Human Costs. In the West, this is mostly a problem in the US where a large portion of the economy rests on a fragile but very lucrative system of people paying large sums of money to insurance companies on the slim chance those companies will take care of them in the event of catastrophe. Those companies have a bottom line dependent on not covering care in the event of catastrophe. This is the big hole in how the US economy works that Obama and many before him were trying to fix and now we’re seeing how that affects the rest of society. In the context of the pandemic, we find that we had an opportunity to meet the disaster head on by working with manufacturers to build up the stockpiles of ventilators and PPE that were going to be necessary. See above about the ease of dividing people rather than bringing together to meet the challenge.

Healthcare systems running out of cash on hand is one of the symptoms of poorly run healthcare (and a poorly run country, in my opinion) – or healthcare run on a for-profit basis. We can fight the virus and put the economy on hold if the money we’re borrowing to shore up the economy goes into fighting the disaster and to the people it needs to help. It’s the same with giving tax breaks at the top rather than minimum wage increases at the bottom. That wage increase gets plugged right back into the economy. But a few more people are fed first.

Stimulus works a lot better when it’s effectively directed as well. Hospitals (nursing homes, prisons, food processing plants), three months into this disaster, should have all the PPE they need. There were hundreds of ways to reconfigure our manufacturing base temporarily to address the situation in testing as well as equipment. We (the executive branch of the US government) simply didn’t and made excuses for not doing so. And continues to. Gracious, DJT. You can’t blame the system for that – you can, but we saw disaster on the horizon and decided not to prepare and identified who we’d sacrifice and which corporations would reap the benefit of stimulus packages that should have supported humans in need.

A final point in the article that made me scratch my head was this: ‘The shuttering of auto manufacturing plants led to an 85 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in the surrounding counties over seven years, according to a recent study.’ (The referenced article by Heather Mac Donald in The Spectator – doesn’t cite a source for this statistic.) Friedersdorf is trying to argue about the social costs of a depression should this shutdown last too long. There’s a leap of logic here that I can’t fathom. Opioid deaths are also associated with the companies pushing the opioids, other healthcare issues associated with manufacturing and the holes in our healthcare system and the generally accepted disposability of workers in general in the US. Topic for another blog

And finally, I found this related sentiment on Facebook, but am having a time sourcing the original tweet:


We absolutely can do much better.

In response to my last post on the COVID-19 crisis, a friend responded with two points which I may be about to misrepresent. First, that the recession caused by ‘rich old-world leaders’ to save themselves and their cohort is artificially generated. Second, that AIDS and COVID-19 deaths in the west are a small fraction of the deaths by suicide and tuberculosis.

I disagree that the recession is an artificially generated result of keeping the rich alive. It’s more a by-product of the mishandling of the crisis. Had measures been taken in the US and the non-Italy parts of Europe to identify and isolate victims, and to ramp up the production of PPE for hospital staff, we wouldn’t have nearly so severe a crisis in terms of hospital space and in terms of the dangers hospital staff are (still!) working under.

Also: New Yorker: What Lessons Does the AIDS Crisis Offer for the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Part of the difference between the crisis in the west and the ongoing disaster of TB and AIDS elsewhere is the racism associated with most of the world’s AIDS and TB cases – these aren’t white people or first world people. Part of it is that hospital systems in the west are being overrun by COVID-19 cases and they came up very quickly, as I noted in the previous entry. We’ve hit the number of COVID-19 cases in three months in the US that AIDS took 20 years to hit.

Oh, here’s a difference: It’s very very easy to catch COVID-19. For consenting adults, AIDS is difficult to catch. Certain precautions were worked out very early on that if followed make it very difficult to catch or transmit HIV. Condoms and clean needles do the trick most of the time. Yes, I’m aware of the failure rates. That’s not the point I’m making. (In places where ‘have sex with a virgin’ is the advice given to people with AIDS, then you have a different scenario. Note the ‘consenting adults’ wording above.)

What is the point I’m making here? Ten HIV+ people who have casual contact with people in daily life over the course of a week will not transmit HIV to any of them (the scaremongering of the time notwithstanding). Ten COVID-19 carriers who have casual contact with people over the course of a week may transmit it to a hundred. It’s very easy to catch and very difficult to treat. It’s not necessarily about the numbers who will die of COVID-19. We don’t know what recovery looks like. Or reinfection. Or what a second or third wave will do to an already stressed population and medical infrastructure.

The two diseases come up together partly because the US government’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis in the 80s is writ very large in their mishandling of the current crisis. Part of it has to do with honesty and candor. Part of the issue today has to do with sheer greed.

A week or so ago, Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word made reference to the increasing size of the obituaries sections of the Boston Globe and papers in New Orleans (transcript April 20, 2020). I was on a walk listening and had this overwhelming memory of the Bay Area Reporter in the 80s. The Reporter was a free gay weekly newspaper that I picked up most weeks. I moved to San Francisco in 1985 and spent a fair amount of time in the Castro District. Even though I didn’t know the people in BAR’s obituaries pages, I read them all the time. At the time gay men didn’t much die of old age. The cohort that made up those pages weren’t that much older than I was, though I didn’t realize then how close 35 or 40 was to 20 or 25. I almost burst into tears on the street with that memory.

Just as we didn’t know in 1987 or ‘88 how large the NAMES Project quilt would grow to be, we don’t know how many lives this pandemic will cost. But the outlook is far more daunting than it should have been. Enough people are talking about the lack of leadership in this regard that I don’t need to add to the sound and the fury today. At the moment, however we’re at 2.9 million confirmed cases worldwide and 940,000 in the US, where the curve does not seem to be flattening.