Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: June 6, 2020
I finally got my hair cut yesterday. That was the first time I’ve gone anywhere except the grocery store or to take walks in my neighborhood since the lock downs began. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed getting out and seeing familiar people again. And it’s such a great feeling having my hair look neat and tidy–and not falling in my face!
The entire experience of the pandemic has been surreal, but combined with the insanity of living with an insane “president,” I’ve had a sense of unreality for a long time. I know I’m not alone in this.
I hope that we are really beginning to emerge from the dark days, but I’m worried that the protests are going to increase the spread of the virus and lead to a second wave of infections. James Hamblin writes at The Atlantic: Curfews and Arrests Will Inflame the Pandemic.
The inescapable fact is that the demonstrations protesting the police killing of George Floyd will lead to spikes in coronavirus deaths. There is no denying this. The question is how to minimize them. The science of how to conduct a perfectly safe mass demonstration in a pandemic is still imperfect, but one thing is clear: The answer is not to clamp down on peaceful gatherings, incarcerate more people, and give everyone less time and space to social distance with draconian curfews. Policing triggered these protests, and the policing, not the protesting, may turn out to be the primary driver of viral transmission during them.
“There are obvious measures that individuals can take during demonstrations, like wearing masks and trying to stay physically distant,” says Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health (where I’m a lecturer on health policy). “Of course that’s not always possible in a crowd.” And even when crowds are allowed adequate space to spread out, some images from protests show these measures being ignored. Some amount of transmission will likely result. As of now, Vermund told me, “we can’t be sure how much.”
The most hopeful element of the protests from a viral-transmission perspective is “the safety of the great outdoors,” Vermund said. The virus is known to spread mainly in confined indoor spaces where air is recirculated, among people who have prolonged close contact. During a rally or march, people are typically outside and, ideally, moving around—not long in proximity with any particular person who may be contagious.
Prolonged, close contact with other people becomes more of a concern when protests are confined to certain hours and certain areas of town. On Tuesday, for example, police blocked a large group of protesters from exiting the Manhattan Bridge, trapping them in a dense, stagnant crowd. Such density is also inevitable when people are arrested and detained. Yesterday, the U.S. marked 10,000 people arrested during the recent protests. Some have been loaded onto buses to be transported, and then held in crowded group cells. In addition to the usual constitutional dilemmas of arresting peaceful protesters, these measures carry especially ominous significance during a pandemic, when giving people space is of the utmost importance….
As President Donald Trump and some mayors threaten to forcibly contain more protesters, they contradict and undermine the very measures put in places that have only just begun to lower the infection rate in the United States. The more that people are forced into confined spaces, the more opportunity the virus will have to spread. Yet peaceful protesters have been arrested en masse for curfew violations in places including New York, the world’s hardest-hit city, where the death toll from COVID-19 is approaching 17,000.
Yesterday Trump celebrated a supposed improvement in unemployment figures, but there’s a problem with the data, according to Heather Long at the Washington Post: A ‘misclassification error’ made the May unemployment rate look better than it is. Here’s what happened.
When the U.S. government’s official jobs report for May came out on Friday, it included a note at the bottom saying there had been a major “error” indicating that the unemployment rate likely should be higher than the widely reported 13.3 percent rate.
The special note said that if this “misclassification error” had not occurred, the “overall unemployment rate would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported,” meaning the unemployment rate would be about 16.3 percent for May.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agency that puts out the monthly jobs reports, said it was working to fix the problem.
“BLS and the Census Bureau are investigating why this misclassification error continues to occur and are taking additional steps to address the issue,” said a note at the bottom of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report….
Economists say the BLS was trying to be as transparent as possible about how hard it is to collect real-time data during a pandemic. The BLS admitted that some people who should have been classified as “temporarily unemployed” during the shutdown were instead misclassified as employed but “absent” from work for “other reasons.”
The “other reason” category is normally used for people on vacation, serving jury duty or taking leave to care for a child or relative. These are typically situations where the worker decides to take leave. But in this unusual pandemic circumstance, the “other reason” category was applied to some people staying at home and waiting to be called back.
More on this situation and the fragile U.S. economy from Neil Irwin at The New York Times: Don’t Lose the Thread. The Economy Is Experiencing an Epic Collapse of Demand.
You can already sense in the public debate over the economy that people are starting to lose the thread — viewing the slight rebound from epic collapse as a sign that a crisis has been averted. That certainly is the kind of optimism evident in the stock market, which is now down a mere 1.1 percent for the year.
But there are clear signs that the collapse of economic activity has set in motion problems that will play out over many months, or maybe many years. If not contained, they could cause human misery on a mass scale and create lasting scars for families.
The fabric of the economy has been ripped, with damage done to millions of interconnections — between workers and employers, companies and their suppliers, borrowers and lenders. Both the historical evidence from severe economic crises and the data available today point to enormous delayed effects.
“There’s a lot of denial here, as there was in the 1930s,” said Eric Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis, who has written extensively about the Great Depression. “At the beginning of the Depression, nobody wanted to admit that it was a crisis. The actions the government took were not adequate to the scope of the problem, yet they were very quick to say there had been a turnaround.”
Though it may not attract the attention that reopening beaches and a soaring stock market might, the evidence is everywhere if you look closely.
Read the rest at the NYT link.
According to Reuters, a massive demonstration will take place in Washington DC today: Washington prepares for major protest as U.S. officials move to rein in police.
Protesters are expected to gather in Washington for a huge demonstration on Saturday, its police chief said, as U.S. street marches over the killing of a black man in custody enter a 12th day and authorities move to rein in policing tactics….
“We have a lot of public, open source information to suggest that the event on this upcoming Saturday may be one of the largest we’ve ever had in the city,” Washington DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told local media, adding that much of the city center would be closed to traffic from early in the day.
Newsham did not give a crowd estimate. Local media has predicted tens of thousands of attendees.
At The Atlantic, George Packer argues that all this protesting may be for naught: Shouting Into the Institutional Void.
The urban unrest of the mid-to-late 1960s was more intense than the days and nights of protest since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman. More people died then, more buildings were gutted, more businesses were ransacked. But those years had one advantage over the present. America was coming apart at the seams, but it still had seams. The streets were filled with demonstrators raging against the “system,” but there was still a system to tear down. Its institutions were basically intact. A few leaders, in and outside government, even exercised some moral authority.
Lyndon B. Johnson created a commission to study the causes and prevention of urban unrest. The Kerner Commission—named for its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner Jr. of Illinois—was an emblem of its moment. It didn’t look the way it would today. Just two of the 11 members were black (Roy Wilkins, the leader of the NAACP, and Edward Brooke, a Republican senator from Massachusetts); only one was a woman. The commission was also bipartisan, including a couple of liberal Republicans, a conservative congressman from Ohio with a strong commitment to civil rights, and representatives from business and labor. It reflected a society that was deeply unjust but still in possession of the tools of self-correction….
The difference between 1968 and 2020 is the difference between a society that failed to solve its biggest problem and a society that no longer has the means to try. A year before his death, King, still insisting on nonviolent resistance, called riots “the language of the unheard.” The phrase implies that someone could be made to hear, and possibly answer. What’s happening today doesn’t feel the same. The protesters aren’t speaking to leaders who might listen, or to a power structure that might yield, except perhaps the structure of white power, which is too vast and diffuse to respond. Congress isn’t preparing a bill to address root causes; Congress no longer even tries to solve problems. No president, least of all this one, could assemble a commission of respected figures from different sectors and parties to study the problem of police brutality and produce a best-selling report with a consensus for fundamental change. A responsible establishment doesn’t exist. Our president is one of the rioters.
It’s an important piece. I hope you’ll go read the whole thing. Packer says we no longer have a political and cultural “establishment” to provide a foundation for societal change.
One more from The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer: The Trump Regime Is Beginning to Topple.
Over the course of his presidency, Donald Trump has indulged his authoritarian instincts—and now he’s meeting the common fate of autocrats whose people turn against them. What the United States is witnessing is less like the chaos of 1968, which further divided a nation, and more like the nonviolent movements that earned broad societal support in places such as Serbia, Ukraine, and Tunisia, and swept away the dictatorial likes of Milošević, Yanukovych, and Ben Ali.
And although Trump’s time in office will end with an election and not an ouster, it is only possible to grasp the magnitude of what we’re seeing and to map what comes next by looking to these antecedents from abroad.
As in the case of many such revolutions, two battles are being waged in America. One is a long struggle against a brutal and repressive ideology. The other is a narrower fight over the fate of a particular leader. The president rose to power by inflaming racial tensions. He now finds his own fate enmeshed in the struggle against police brutality and racism.
The most important theorist of nonviolent revolutions is the late political scientist Gene Sharp. A conscientious objector during the Korean War who spent nine months in prison, Sharp became a close student of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles. His work set out to extract the lessons of the Indian revolt against the British. He wanted to understand the weaknesses of authoritarian regimes—and how nonviolent movements could exploit them. Sharp distilled what he learned into a 93-page handbook, From Dictatorship to Democracy, a how-to guide for toppling autocracy.
Sharp’s foundational insight is embedded in an aphorism: “Obedience is at the heart of political power.” A dictator doesn’t maintain power on his own; he relies on individuals and institutions to carry out his orders. A successful democratic revolution prods these enablers to stop obeying. It makes them ashamed of their complicity and fearful of the social and economic costs of continued collaboration.
Sharp posited that revolutionaries should focus first on the regime’s softest underbelly: the media, the business elites, and the police. The allegiance of individuals in the outer circle of power is thin and rooted in fear. By standing strong in the face of armed suppression, protesters can supply examples of courage that inspire functionaries to stop carrying out orders, or as Sharp put it, to “withhold cooperation.” Each instance of resistance provides the model for further resistance. As the isolation of the dictators grows—as the inner circles of power join the outer circle in withholding cooperation—the regime crumbles.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!