America: The Third Worldiest First World Country on Earth
So yesterday we didn’t post. Why you ask? Because the power is out. And likely will be for… a while. No one can really say. But after living on the East coast for 20+ years with storms steadily getting freakier and more dangerous, one does begin to wonder. Is this really the best we can do? Are we saving that much money by not burying power lines rather than sending out massive crews working obscene overtime hours to rehang the wires right next to dicey looking trees just so they can come right out and do it again? Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis comparing how many times we have to do the same dumb thing until we’ve effectively spent the same amount it would have cost to do a different smarter thing?
Somewhere along the way, folks in the government began to view everything as an expense and nothing as an investment. Then they started cutting expenses so they could cut taxes (you can probably guess who these guys are). But what they forgot or ignored is that when cutting expenses that are actually investments, you can impact other expenses. When you cut money to schools, there’s a high likelihood that soon you’ll be spending more on prisons. When you cut money for healthcare, you’ll spend more supporting hospital emergency rooms where people go as a last resort. When you cut money for infrastructure you could poison a generation of children in a town and then be on the hook for the billions of dollars of additional assistance that will be needed for those affected -- for the rest of their lives. Beyond just the appalling shortsightedness, it's a classic penny wise, pound foolish situation where our tendency to alleviate short term budget pain will cause us agony in the future.
But Americans are greedy. We love a punitive, moralizing budget just as long as there’s someone getting punished even more than we are -- hurting others is fine as long as we always get ours. The early mask debate is such a good illustration of this. We were told that masks would not be effective protection from the virus, because I believe, we were staring down a massive shortage for frontline medical workers and Americans could not be trusted to sacrifice for the public good -- the masks would have sold out immediately at hundreds of times their actual cost because our "rugged individualism" mythology, now more than ever, robs us of the opportunity to benefit from functioning as a community. This American everymanforhimselfism could be the quiet, unexpected downfall of the experiment. If the pandemic doesn't get us first.
This article in the Atlantic by Ed Yong is a must read. It’s long, but you can also listen to it.
The Atlantic: How the Pandemic Defeated America
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million. But few countries have been as severely hit as the United States, which has just 4 percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its confirmed COVID‑19 cases and deaths. These numbers are estimates. The actual toll, though undoubtedly higher, is unknown, because the richest country in the world still lacks sufficient testing to accurately count its sick citizens.
Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer. “The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined,” Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told me.
Rolling Stone: The Unraveling of America
Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.
In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite ten thousand times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.
The New York Times: America Stands Alone
First, the United States has a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That aversion to collective action helped lead to inadequate state lockdowns and inconsistent adherence to mask wearing based on partisanship instead of public health.
Second, many experts agree, America’s poor results stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration. “If you had to summarize our approach, it’s really poor federal leadership — disorganization and denial,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare and Medicaid from 2015 to 2017.
This article in Al Jazeera about the enormous explosion in Beirut has many parallels to America 2020. We ignore them at our own peril.
Al Jazeera: Lebanon is on track to become a failed state
Today, the Lebanese people are facing an unprecedented tragedy. After experiencing a devastating economic collapse and trying to fend off a pandemic with limited resources, they are now faced with the enormous task of healing their wounded and rebuilding their capital city and main port. There is a sense of exasperation and fatigue after all what the country has been going through.
The Lebanese people undoubtedly need all the help they can get from the international community. But the country's elites, who are directly or indirectly responsible for this tragedy, should not be allowed to use international aid as a life vest to save themselves from scrutiny. The international community appears to be inclined to view the explosion in Beirut solely as a humanitarian crisis. Offering assistance to the Lebanese political system without questioning its role in bringing about this tragedy and the economic collapse, however, will harm, not help, the Lebanese people. It will provide yet another opportunity for the corrupt elites to dodge accountability, shift responsibility and avoid implementing the structural reforms the country desperately needs. There are ways to help Lebanon without going through the traditional official channels.
This is why if the international community really wants to help Lebanon heal, it should not only send aid and offer support, but also acknowledge what really happened in Beirut on August 4: a failing state, through negligence, incompetence and corruption, destroyed its own capital and killed its own citizens.
In America right now, we are losing ten times the Lebanese citizens so far confirmed killed in the blast to the Coronavirus every single day, which leads me to re-up this:
The Atlantic: We are living in a failed state
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.
The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.
We have lost 160,000 Americans and will likely lose many, many more. Are we too far gone to course correct? Will our inability to act collectively be our downfall?
Gordon Gecko was wrong. Greed is not good. It's killing us.