Real Leadership

Fellow citizens,

The coronavirus is changing daily life in our country dramatically at the present. Our idea of normality, of public life, social togetherness – all of this is being put to the test as never before.

Millions of you cannot go to work, your children cannot go to school or kindergarten, theatres and cinemas and shops are closed, and, perhaps what is most difficult, we all miss social encounters that we otherwise take for granted. Of course, each of us has many questions and concerns in a situation like this, about the days ahead.

I’m addressing you in this unconventional way today because I want to tell you what guides me as Federal Chancellor and all my colleagues in the Federal Government in this situation. This is part of what open democracy is about: that we make political decisions transparent and explain them. That we justify and communicate our actions as best we can, so that people are able to understand them.

I firmly believe that we will pass this test if all citizens genuinely see this as THEIR task.

Allow me therefore to say that this is serious. Please also take this seriously. Since German reunification, no, since the Second World War, there has not been a challenge for our country in which action in a spirit of solidarity on our part was so important.

I would like explain where we currently stand in this epidemic and what the Federal Government and the state levels are doing to protect everyone in our community and to limit the economic, social and cultural fallout. However, I also want to tell you why all of you are needed here, and what each and every individual can do to help.

As far as the epidemic is concerned – and everything I tell you about this comes from the Federal Government’s ongoing consultations with the experts from the Robert Koch Institute and other scientists and virologists: the most intensive research is being conducted around the world, but there is still neither a way to treat the coronavirus, nor is there a vaccine.

As long as this is the case – and this is what is guiding all of our actions – then only one thing matters, namely that we slow the spread of the virus, flatten the curve over the course of several months and buy time. Time in which the research community can develop a medicine and vaccine. But, above all, time to allow those who fall ill to receive the best possible treatment.

Germany has an excellent healthcare system, perhaps one of the best in the world. We can take solace in this. But our hospitals would also be completely overwhelmed if, in the shortest space of time, too many patients were admitted, suffering severe symptoms as a result of the virus.

These are not just abstract numbers in statistics, but this is about a father or grandfather, a mother or grandmother, a partner – this is about people. And we are a community in which each life and each person counts.

I would like first of all to address all those who as doctors, nurses or in a different capacity work in our hospitals and in our healthcare system in general. You are on the front lines of this fight for us. You are the first to see the sick and to see how severe the symptoms of the virus can sometimes be. And, day in, day out, you keep going back to work and are there to help people. You are doing tremendous work, and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So, our aim is to slow the virus down as it makes its way through Germany. And we must, and this is absolutely vital, focus our attention on one thing above all else, namely powering down public life as far as possible. With reason and a sense of proportion, of course, since the state will continue to function. It goes without saying that supply chains will continue to be guaranteed, and we want to keep as much economic activity going as possible.

But we must now reduce everything that could put people at risk, everything that could harm not only individuals, but also the community. We must limit the risk of one person infecting another as much as we possibly can.

I know how dramatic the restrictions already are: no events, no trade fairs, no concerts any more, and, for the time being, also no school, no university, no kindergarten, no more playing at the playground. I know how invasive the closures that the Federation and the Länder have agreed to are in our lives, and also in terms of how we see ourselves as a democracy. These are restrictions, the likes of which the Federal Republic has never seen before.

Allow me to assure you that, for someone like me, for whom the freedom of travel and the freedom of movement were a hard-fought right, such restrictions can only be justified if they are absolutely imperative. These should never be put in place lightly in a democracy and should only be temporary. – But they are vital at the moment in order to save lives.

This is why, since the beginning of the week, more intensive border controls and restrictions on entry for a number of our most important neighbouring countries have been in force.

Things are already very difficult for the economy, for major companies, and also for small businesses, for shops, restaurants and freelancers. Things will get even more difficult in the weeks to come.

I assure you that the Federal Government is doing everything that it can to cushion the economic impact – and, above all, to safeguard jobs.

We can and we will do whatever it takes in order to help our companies and their employees get through this most difficult time.

And everyone can rest assured that the food supply is guaranteed at all times, and that if supermarket shelves happen to be empty on one day, they will be filled again on the next. I want to tell everyone going to the supermarket that bulk-buying makes sense; it always has. But only within reason. Panic buying, as if there’s no tomorrow, is pointless and, at the end of the day, shows a complete lack of solidarity.

And allow me to express my thanks to those who are too seldom thanked. Those working as supermarket cashiers or restocking shelves, who are currently doing one of the most difficult jobs that there are at the moment. Thank you for being there for your fellow citizens and for keeping us all going.

Let me talk now about what I believe is most urgent today. All measures taken by the state would come to nothing if we were to fail to use the most effective means for preventing the virus from spreading too rapidly – and that is we ourselves. As indiscriminately as each one of us can be affected by the virus, each and every one of us must help. First and foremost, by taking seriously what matters today. Not panicking, but also not thinking for a single moment that he or she doesn’t matter after all. No one is expendable. Everyone counts, and we need a collective effort.

That is the message an epidemic brings home – how vulnerable we all are, how much we depend on the considerate behaviour of others and, ultimately, how, through joint action, we can protect ourselves and offer one another encouragement and support.

Every individual counts. We are not condemned to accept the spread of this virus as an inevitable fact of life. We have the means to fight it. We must be considerate and keep a safe distance from one another. Virologists are giving us clear advice: no more handshakes, we must wash our hands thoroughly and often, and we must keep at least one and a half metre’s distance between ourselves and others. Ideally, we should avoid all contact with the elderly, because they are particularly at risk.

I know that this is asking a great deal of us. Especially when times are hard, we want to be close to one another. We show affection by staying close, and by reaching out to each other. But at this time, we must do the exact opposite. Every single one of us must understand that, right now, the only way to show we care is by keeping our distance.

A well-meant visit or a trip that is not essential can spread infection and really should not take place right now. There is a reason why experts say that grandparents and grandchildren should not come into contact with each other right now.

Everyone who avoids unnecessary encounters helps all those who are in hospitals providing care to more and more people each day. So that is how we will save lives. This will be difficult for many, and it will also be important not to abandon anyone and to take care of all those who need a dose of cheer and encouragement. As families, and as a society, we will find other ways to help each other.

Even now, we have come up with many creative ideas for standing up to this virus and its impact on society. Even now, grandchildren are recording podcasts for their grandparents, letting them know they are not alone.

We all must discover how we can show affection and express friendship. We are staying in touch via Skype, phone, email, and maybe also by writing old-fashioned letters. The post, after all, is being delivered. We’re hearing about beautiful examples of neighbours helping one another. People are assisting the elderly who cannot themselves go shopping. I am certain there’s plenty more we can do. We will prove, as a community, that we will not abandon one another.

I therefore urge you to abide by the rules that will remain in place for the time being. The government will constantly reassess what measures can be adjusted and also what further measures may still be necessary.

This is a developing situation, and we will ensure that we continue to learn from it so that we can adjust our thinking and deploy new instruments at any time. If we do so, then we will explain our reasons once again.

Therefore, I call on you to not believe any rumours, but rather only the official messages that we will always translate into many languages.

We are a democracy. We thrive not because we are forced to do something, but because we share knowledge and encourage active participation. This is a historic task, and it can only be mastered if we face it together.

I have absolutely no doubt that we will overcome this crisis. But how many victims will it claim? How many loved ones will we lose? The answer, to a great extent, lies in our hands. Right now, we can take decisive action all together. We can accept these current limitations and support one another.

The situation is serious, and the outcome uncertain.

Our success will also largely depend on how disciplined each and every one of us is in following the rules.

Even though this is something we have never experienced before, we must show that we can act warm-heartedly and rationally – and thereby save lives. It is up to each and every one of us to do so, without any exception.

Take good care of yourself and your loved ones.

Thank you.

Angela Merkel march 18, 2020


Links:

COVID-19 Excuses

This post is a time capsule of thoughts about COVID-19 in early April 2020 of largely well to do Americans. This is during the widespread lock down around the United States. Why bother recording these views? For lots of reasons, but here’s a few

  • To try and dig into the more insidious ideas
  • As part of an effort to track the distortion and disinformation
  • To remind my future self what it was like

At the time the lock down is in early days, but also in full swing. People are getting restless. Millions of people have been made unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead. Hundreds of thousands have been confirmed to have the disease. The economy has shrunk double digits.

In the following excuses, I’m not claiming the people that had these views are ‘bad people’, ‘stupid’ or arguing in bad faith. It seems they have got to these positions from a variety of directions – the desperate need to ‘normalize’, perhaps some guilt, being in a bubble, not wanting to admit failure personally and/or nationally. That doesn’t mean it’s okay or in any way strengthen the arguments.

Understanding requires thought, effort, introspection and at times changing your mind. It can be painful and embarrassing. Right now it is especially important because of whats at stake.

This Is The Best We Could Hope For

The strength of this point varies. There are people that seem to think the Trump Administration has done a good or even great(!) job. The main argument I see though is not quite this, it’s more ‘what happened is the best we could expect’. Specific thoughts …

“Obama would have performed no better”

This is a bizarrely wrong. There was a pandemic during his term, and by and large his government did a pretty reasonable job of keeping it in check.

That the Trump administration has systematically de-funded, removed officials and disabled the mechanisms that were there to protect the US from pandemics. Once people had the disease he downplayed the problem, did nothing, said it will go away, and then crowned it all with ‘it’s a hoax’. He then did a 180 and announced a national emergency and the country largely locked down. From there he held daily briefings where he promoted dangerous, largely ineffective drugs. Under cut medical experts opinions. More recently he has been claiming that citizens in some democratic states should ‘liberate’ themselves from the lock down. Now he’s pushing reopening, and claiming that he has the authority to force states to reopen, and then backtracking (by giving ‘permission’).

Um. If you can’t see that this has made things worse than they need to be, I don’t know what to tell you. If you can’t see that inciting people to ignore lock down protocols and worse is creating new problems, again I don’t know how to explain the obvious to you in any other way.

More specifically though there are studies that show that if Trump had responded 2 weeks earlier (he had months) there would have been 90% less deaths.

Or how about this back of the envelope calculation – the US has 4% of the world population, but we have around 30% of confirmed cases. If we had had an average response, you would expect a number somewhere near to the 4% number. That makes our response of the order of 8 times as bad as the average response.

To try and make it more clear I claim that the Trump administration has been poor at all points:

  • Before the pandemic – de-funding, removing key personal, shutting down efforts
  • At the start of the pandemic – claiming it’s not a problem, it’s under control, it will go away, it’s a hoax, doing nothing to prepare
  • At the shutdown – covering up the lies, corruption and malfeasance, confusing the efforts – making states compete, claiming ‘miracle cures’,
  • During the shut down – slow to help, choosing winners and losers, removing oversight for 2.2 trillion dollar bailout, claiming we need to ‘get back to work’ as soon as possible
  • Supporting people breaking the shutdown, supporting insurrection, claiming absolute authority whilst no responsibility, slowing passing of packages for petty partisan reasons, having an original package which was a corporate bailout

We still have these corrupt idiots making things worse, for lulz, for corruption, to cover what they have already done. That they are actively making it harder for us to get out of this mess.

“Europe it’s just as bad”

It isn’t, although it’s true in certain European countries it’s not good. In particular Italy, Spain and France are not doing so well, and the Uk is heading up the list.

The rest not so much. So plastering the whole of Europe like this seems a bit weak.

Germany has had bad outbreak, but is showing how with good management and lots of tests it is controllable.

If you look at the trajectories of the disease in any of these countries, the US is worse even now – look at the FT tracking page for example. And that is what you would expect seeing as the US has a uniquely corrupt and inept ongoing effort.

It’s also interesting to set the bar in this way – because some other countries in Europe have done a bad job, that’s the best we can expect here.

I’ll discuss the Uk more – because it has some parallels to here.

“The Uk is as bad as here”

The Uk is doing a pretty terrible job and is slowly marching up the list of countries in a bad situation.

I think much of the blame lays at the feet of Boris Johnson and the tory party. That whilst not as base, or purposefully stupid – it is kind of Trump lite administration. It’s initial plan was to ignore the problem. Herd immunity! It took weeks before they decided that 250,000 extra people dying was probably not a great idea. So then they locked down. Much like in the US then weeks were lost, and that has put them in a bad position.

The Uk does seem to be doing a better job of covering peoples costs, and enabling companies to be able to keep people’s jobs than here.

Even with this ineptitude the Uks trajectory appears significantly better than the USes.

“What Trump Said/Did Made No Difference”

The claim here is that Trump saying ‘it won’t effect us’, ‘it will go away’ and then later ‘it’s a hoax’ made no difference.

This is leaving aside the not doing anything for months or disabling the mechanisms that where there to handle the situation.

Seems like a bizarre position, but there is a simple and easy counter point. Leading up to the lock-down, the vast majority of Americans were doing nothing. They weren’t stocking up, or wearing masks, or social distancing. This was whilst there were many reports about the outbreaks in the US, and how serious the situation was in other countries.

Then Trump announces a ‘national emergency’ – and all of a sudden everybody is buying toilet paper, companies are adopting work at home policies and so forth.

It’s almost as if most people need the word of somebody in authority before they will do anything. Before it is real. Even though there is plenty of evidence – they act as if it won’t effect them.

It should be somewhat ironic they take this action from Trumps ‘authority’. Somebody who lies consistently. Somebody who only days earlier claimed it’s all a hoax. Craziness I know.

Leaving all that aside, it show’s that the president doing the right thing earlier would have had a massive effect and that’s ignoring all of the effects of purposefully downplaying the situation.

China

Just to make sure there is no confusion here – China has some blame for this situation. They tried to downplay the problem when it started in Wuhan district. They claimed it was not transmitted between humans. They did not release the genome until significantly later than they could have done. They have wet markets (so do many other countries) and they help such virus transmissions from animal to humans.

This is not good.

Once identified they went into a massive lock-down program – some 50 million people not being able to leave their homes except for a few hours a week. This response has appeared to have largely worked. China is now on a charm offensive around the world supplying money and supplies.

Other countries response to the situation is on them though. It isn’t China’s responsibility to protect Americans from external threats. That is the US governments. If the US governments response is terrible -which it is – that is not the fault of the Chinese. That is the fault of the US government.

American culture makes a pandemic particularly problematic – because it relies on people worrying about other people, instead of individual rights. Even this is a bit overstated – Americans dealt with significant restrictions to their liberty during the second world war for example.

The overarching problem with the ‘it’s China’s fault’ narrative, is that it’s a very alluring explanation for everything, because it requires no introspection, or blame closer to home. It allows blame for a faceless entity, that there is already plenty of animosity for.

You can’t fix the problems if you blame the wrong things. You can easily cause way more harm. It’s easy for some to make the leap from ‘it’s China’s fault’ to it’s ‘the Chinese peoples fault’, to Americans of Chinese descent being attacked in the US. This has already happened.

It’s their fault it started

The Chinese Government and officials have some fault as already stated.

When ‘it’s China’s fault it started’ is claimed, it’s also quite easy to see the chain of logic that then implies that (or nearly) everything is their fault.

If this is pointed out, it might be claimed that, that all that was stated was that ‘it started there’. I’m afraid unless the person arguing is prepared to admit that the majority of the problems in the US are due to the US response, I’m not going to find that very convincing.

The Chinese numbers are false

This comes up a lot as part of the it’s Chinas fault narrative. It’s kind of odd for a few reasons

  • It isn’t backed up by anything specific. How wrong? In what way?
  • 10% wrong, 10,000% wrong, the deaths are too low, too high, more people have it, it’s spreading more quickly?!?
  • It’s a lie so it backs up their fault
  • Doesn’t say anything about the trend
  • If they have 2 times as many people as they reported, but it’s still under control… then it’s still under control, and way less than the US… so?

It wouldn’t surprise me the if the numbers from China are off. Maybe by a significant percentage. Probably to make it seem less bad. The same can be said about the US numbers – with deaths of people who aren’t tested, not appearing for example.

The bottom line though is unless their numbers are of in some dramatic way (and there is some huge coverup) and/or they don’t have it under control. I’m not sure what difference it makes.

For the moment it seems to me they do largely have it under control, and whilst their numbers might be off, they are not orders of magnitude off – and they would need to be that to be even close to the US.

It was created in a Lab in China

This can be read a few ways…

  • It was purposefully created in a lab in China to destroy the west! It’s a Bio weapon!
  • It was created maliciously for unknown reasons in a lab in China.
  • That it was in a lab in china (doing something nefarious) and it escaped.
  • The Chinese were inappropriately ‘playing with nature’ and this is what happens.
  • It was in a lab in China doing something useful/neutral, but it accidentally escaped.

Trouble is the evidence doesn’t support it was made in a lab. The Pentagon says so. There are articles from respectable scientific papers, like Nature that say so. The genetics of the virus seem to make it very unlikely.

It appears true that the virus did not appear in the ‘wet market’, but that is where it widely spread from. It’s also appears it could be true that there is a lab where some tests on corona viruses in bats were performed. The lab isn’t close to the wet market though, it’s 7 miles away on the other side of the city. This casually looks suspicious – but it’s still a very unlikely vector. Labs, even with poor protocols, are specifically designed to constrain such outbreaks, whereas bats can and do easily transmit in the outside world. Through the air, defecating and urinating as they fly. Through people in going into caves.

Unfortunately this idea is now being pushed very hard from a variety of outlets. It’s easy to see why because it’s an easy way to move the blame on China from ‘it was an accident that happened in China that they handled badly’ to ‘they created it – it’s all their fault’. It may take years to determine where it originated and never be sure.

I would also note this ‘it was made in a lab’ is a common trope. For a long while there was a theory that AIDs was man made through experiments on monkeys. Many years later it was shown to be false.

Old People

They are going to die anyway

Ugh. Yes we are all going to eventually.

In this line of thought old people are disposable. If not casually disposable, they are more disposable than people younger. If you follow the logic then babies are more valuable, than teenagers, which are more valuable that middle aged people who are more valuable than old people.

If you push this logic you’ll get push back, because typically people see themselves as valuable. So ‘old people’ means people significantly older than them. So not themselves.

You might also hear the argument that they know some old people who ‘do not want to be constrained by the virus’. That they have made their peace and so they should be able to do what they want to do. They lived a good life.

Where to start

  • If some people are okay with something it doesn’t mean everybody in that group must be okay with it
  • If some old people don’t mind dying ‘for the economy’, that doesn’t mean all old people are or should be
  • It’s irresponsible – doing so may overload the medical system, spread the disease
  • The elderly are the most vulnerable (!), they need the most protection
  • Not all the very elderly are in the best position to make good decisions in this situation even for themselves
  • Doesn’t seem to take into account what this really means
  • It seems like a pretty horrible/lonely way to go

The Economy

In this line of argument, the economy is being destroyed, and that the ‘cure’ (the lock down) is worse than the disease.

First to say there aren’t two binary choices, human life or the economy. That the economy does have an effect on human life, but a shut down of the economy does not mean as much death and suffering as COVID-19 running unrestrained. That even simplistically there is a spectrum from those two extremes.

There are some hard decisions here. Trying to stop the maximum amount of suffering of COVID-19 might cause more overall suffering. That being said COVID-19 suffering – living through the symptoms or dying is pretty high. Dying has to be up there in terms of suffering. In this balance I’m applying Utilitarianism – which has it’s problems, but doesn’t seem like a bad place to at least start thinking about this.

That at first blush it would seem better to err on side of maintaining life, than on the pleasures of ‘the economy’.

The suffering!

In this argument we are asked to consider all of the suffering due to the lock down.

  • Suicide
  • Physical abuse
  • Mental abuse
  • Lack of liberty…

Some of these are hard to gauge, but it’s put as these are worse than the shutdown.

If you look up the numbers for suicide, then they don’t come close, and it’s hard to see how they ever would.

Physical abuse – for example more spousal abuse, because more proximity? Um – I could believe it possible there may be more physical abuse because of the situation. But I doubt it’s anywhere near where COVID-19 is right now. Until something concrete is produced showing how much more this is over the typical situation… it would seem reckless to assume that it’s worse.

How do you even measure mental abuse as it relates to dying, or nearly dying and having reduced life span? I don’t know but it seems that this falls into a similar category as physical abuse.

I also wonder how much time and effort people put into solving physical/mental abuse when there isn’t a pandemic. If nothing or little – I guess I’d wonder about the sincerity of that being the actual issue behind wanting to reopen the economy.

Notice this is a form of Utilitarianism – it is saying our aim is to ‘minimize the overall suffering’. But it’s impossible to know if you have minimized suffering, and how do you measure suffering anyway? There can also be multiple minima, how are you going to choose? How are you going to measure?

Overall though it is balancing a theoretical unknown suffering against an actual known (and terrible) suffering. That releasing COVID-19 it’s exponential suffering! The other suffering is not.

The jobs!

This is an example of how once again the Trump administration has failed. That they have programs – but they took to long to put in place, and in many places are not operating efficiently, have the funds or work or well. The situation around Floridas unemployment for example. Corruption seems very likely – and there are already many examples.

Other countries have been much faster to put together programs so people can keep their jobs paid for by the government whilst the lock down is in place. In the US millions of people have lost their jobs. 17 million I think at a recent count. That is not a property of the lock down – it’s largely the governments slow, corrupt and inept efforts. That in many other countries the percentage job loses are much lower.

That reopening the economy now will not rapidly restore jobs. There will not be the demand until people are confident about their future and safety. They are unlikely to want or need the majority of products and services.

It’s only 1%!

In this argument the idea is that the economy should just reopen because COVID-19 only kills 1% of people.

  • 1% of Americans is 3.3 million people(!)
  • You are saying for ‘the economy’ 3+ million extra people need to die?!
  • 1% may be an underestimate – 3.4% is still the WHO number, it’s 4% from current US figures
  • 10-15% will need hospitalization
  • We don’t have capacity for 30 million people to be in medical care – so many more will die
  • Of those needing hospitalization the experience is apparently dreadful
  • Many have damage to their lungs, that will shorten their life span and diminish their quality of life long term

Herd Immunity!

Herd immunity might work. It relies on people who have caught CORVID-19 and have recovered are then immune. Some viruses provide no immunity, others a couple of months, yet others years, or tens of years.

At the moment we don’t know if people who have recovered from CORVID-19 have any immunity at all.

Until we are fairly confident about this basic fact, it seems reckless to rely on it for opening the economy.

Don’t Believe The Experts!

The models are wrong

Early models of COVID-19 in the US predicted 1 – 2.2 million dead. Some projections now predict 70 thousand. That’s a big difference. The first thing to say is the original models are if we did nothing, so that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Secondly it remains to be seen how many people die in the US – especially if some states reopen and the disease breaks out again.

Not all models are equal. Models are built on assumptions. Just because the result isn’t the same as the model doesn’t mean the model was wrong if the circumstances are not the same.

By varying the assumptions you are able to see likely possible outcomes. That’s useful.

Really the question though is what is the alternative? A model takes our best knowledge, and guesses and predicts mathematically based on that. How else am I going to predict? Using my feelings?

Don’t trust the scientists

Umm ok. So who should I trust? You? The politicians? A talking head on TV?

No – I’m going to trust credible sources which are mostly scientists. I will try to understand how they got their results and biases. I will try and get a range of their views. This is most likely to produce the most informed and accurate answers. In COVID-19. In climate change. In most things frankly.

What we have done has had no effect!

When it is pointed out that the early models haven’t produced the same result as what we are seeing is because the early models were about the outcome if we did nothing – the response is, ‘the things we are doing haven’t been going on long enough to have this effect’.

People are incredibly poor at dealing with exponentials. That unconstrained COVID-19 spreads exponentially, at one point in the US confirmed cases were doubling every 2 days! That being the case it really doesn’t take very long to make a huge difference in the outcome. Let’s say you are able to stop the exponential growth for just one week – by lock down. Simplistically speaking (because there are other effects), you are looking at 10th the amount of infections. Which currently means at least 10th the amount of deaths, although probably more as the medical system would be overloaded. It’s the difference between 100,000 people dying and over a million. That’s well in line with the difference between the ‘no change’ models and what we see.

I Already Had It!

I’ve heard multiple people claim they already had COVID-19, when that’s not really possible. They’ll say in December I got really sick. It was different from flu it was really bad. I’ve had it and I’m ok. The people making this claim are in the US or the Uk.

So … no. You didn’t.

You might want to claim this for a couple of reasons.

  • You might really believe it (!)
  • It removes the anxiety that you will get it, and downplays how bad it will be (you already experienced it)
  • It feeds the conspiracy that it’s already everywhere

On the last point, that feeds into the further point, that if it’s already everywhere, and only this many people have died, then it’s not that bad.

You are wrong or at best incredibly unlikely to be right. It wasn’t in the US or the UK in December. Not everybody has it – of people being tested (who have symptoms) around 20% are typically positive.

Liberty

In this argument America is claimed to be uniquely ‘free’. I’m not going to go into why this isn’t true – and in many important ways Americans are less free.

It is true that in American culture ‘freedom’ and individuality are seen as perhaps more important than many other cultures – even if the reality does not generally live up to the hype.

The belief that your individual freedom is the most important thing could lead you to believe, that any restriction on your freedom is inherently bad. A pandemic introduces a situation where you can’t just consider yourself – other peoples behavior can effect you. Other peoples behavior could kill you or a loved one. It’s a reality where you have to consider others. That the actions of people at large if restrained can have a huge positive effect.

Freedom!

This ‘idea’ seems as simple as ‘we are free’ so people have to die. That death is the ‘price of freedom’.

Well that’s a weird kind of freedom. That your acts of ‘freedom’ might kill me – the ultimate loss of freedom. So it seems your freedom is more important than mine.

Historically it’s not the case either – as previously stated, in the world wars Americans freedoms were seriously constrained, in what they ate, in what they did and their work. Do we look back on world war 2 and say it was unamerican because of these loss of freedoms whilst fighting an existential crisis? I’ve never heard anybody do such a thing. I have heard, I think quite rightly, pride around people enduring these and other constraints in order to be able to win the war.

That a pandemic is no different in terms of being an existential crisis. It is different in that the enemy cannot be reasoned with. That if you give it a way out it will explode exponentially and without qualm or restraint. From that perspective agreeing to restrict your freedoms is absolutely an American thing to do, such that in the future things can return to normal and ‘free’.

Americans will not accept ‘it’

The ‘it’ here is restrictions of liberty largely.

This can also be seen as part of ‘if the Trump administration tried to do something earlier they wouldn’t accept it’.

This seems so incredibly weak. All that needed to happen for the vast majority of people to change their behavior and accept it, was for the person who was claiming it’s not a problem and a hoax, to say it was a ‘national emergency’. Then it was real. If he had started out without the lies, and deflection surely it would have been much easy to accept the national emergency and sooner. People would be more accepting now presumably.

Arguing Americans won’t accept it seems weird – when for a fact the vast majority can and do right now. Even when they have been lied to, gas lit, deflected and more.

Comfortably Passive

Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33.

But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all.

Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

Milton Mayer – “They Thought They Were Free”

The quotation is from Milton Mayer’s interviews with nazis published in the book, “They Thought They Were Free”.

It’s terrible but it seems to capture the state of things. I saw this quotation after reading the article “Why Is Trump’s Inspector General Purge Not a National Scandal?“. The previous post on excuses doesn’t capture so viscerally how easy a path it is to blunder down.

The truth is you can’t hide from it. You are going to have to do something meaningful and significant. It is the only remedy.

Doing so may prevent needless ongoing suffering for you, your loved ones and others.

At a minimum it will save you from the brunt of endless shame.

As a bonus here is a great quote about propaganda

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.… Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism


It Is Trump’s Fault

Update 5 May 2020:

You may have long ago concluded correctly that the Trump administrations original response to COVID-19 was especially poor – corrupt, inept, blinkered, stupid and perhaps worse.

In March they decided to flip to ‘national emergency’ and then more recently to reopening the economy. You may feel that perhaps he and his Administration is doing a better job. Perhaps because they are ‘doing something’ and have ‘accepted’ the situation. Perhaps because it looks like they are ‘trying’. Perhaps you are worried about the economic situation and at least they are thinking about opening up.

But you’d be wrong.

With Trump when in doubt, always assume it’s worse than you think. Doing so you will be far more likely to be right than wrong.

From original post:

That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.

Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

David Frum (former speachwriter for G.W. Bush)

As the quote covers – it is not his fault it exists. The US’s uniquely terrible response to it is. It’s Trumps fault. It’s Mitch McConnells fault for empowering somebody so obviously unwilling and unable to do the job. It is the Republican parties fault, for enabling McConnell, supporting directly and indirectly the corruption, lies and ineptitude that lead us here and continues to take us down an increasingly dark path. It’s their fault because they did not impeach, when it was obvious that Trump should have been.

As a redditer posted on this story…

  • Trump at 15 COVID-19 cases: Within a couple of days, it’ll be close to zero.
  • Trump at 9,000 COVID-19 cases: It’s a war. I’m a wartime president!
  • Trump at 80,000 COVID-19 cases: We’re safe. Let’s reopen America by Easter!
  • Trump at 250,000 COVID-19 cases: I’m not responsible!
  • Trump at 300,000 COVID-19 cases: We are doing a fantastic job.

Which is much more pithy than my long timeline post.

Another redditer posted the following chronology which is also damning.

Below is a chronology of the Trump administration’s lack of biodefense preparations as it relates to the current coronavirus pandemic. The instances are pre-outbreak (i.e. pre-2020) and are examples of missed/ignored warnings, insufficient preparation measures and cuts to integral health programs.

January 2017 – Seven days before Trump takes office, Obama administration officials simulate an influenza pandemic with the incoming Trump administration. Trump’s team is told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response is “paramount.” (Source)

April 2018 – White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert, who had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks, is fired the day after John Bolton takes over as national security advisor. (Source)

May 2018 – Luciana Borio, director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, warns that a flu pandemic is the country’s top health security threat. “We know that it cannot be stopped at the border.” (Source)

May 2018 – Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic, abruptly leaves the administration. The Global Health Security and Biodefense team, responsible for pandemic preparedness, is subsequently disbanded under a reorganization by national security advisor John Bolton. Ziemer’s departure means that no senior administration official is focused solely on global health security. (Source)

September 2018 – The Trump administration acknowledges in its own National Biodefense Strategy that it’s imperative for the U.S. to prepare for a health crisis like a global pandemic. “The significant infectious disease outbreaks of recent decades, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), pandemic influenza, Ebola virus disease, and Zika virus disease, have revealed the extent to which individual countries and international communities need to improve their preparedness and biosurveillance systems to detect and respond to the next health crisis. The health of the American people depends on our ability to stem infectious disease outbreaks at their source, wherever and however they occur.” (Source)

January 2019 – The Office of the Director of National Intelligence ranks a major disease outbreak among the top global threats to watch. “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.” (Source)

January – August 2019 – The Department of Health and Human Services runs pandemic simulations to show the Trump administration how underprepared the U.S. is to deal with such a crisis. (Source)

June 2019 – The International Society for Syndromic Surveillance shutters its doors due to lack of funding. The group of disease experts tracked pandemics with a technique called “syndromic surveillance,” which involved analyzing aggregated data from emergency rooms to identify potential infection hotspots. Although not cut directly by the Trump administration, the ISSS increasingly lost funding due to cutbacks to the CDC over the past decade, culminating in its termination just 6 months before the coronavirus rapidly spread through China. “Public health gets an influx of interest right after something bad has happened, but we don’t put enough emphasis on prevention.” (Source)

July 2019 – The Trump administration axes a CDC expert along with more than 2/3 of the remaining CDC staff stationed in China. Health experts will later point to the departed resources as a missed early-warning opportunity, as they would’ve been able to provide real-time information to U.S. and other officials around the world during the first weeks of the outbreak, when the Chinese government stifled the release of information and provided erroneous assessments. (Source, Source)

September 2019 – White House economists publish a study, called Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza Through Vaccine, that warns a pandemic disease could kill 500,000 Americans and devastate the economy. (Source)

September 2019 – The Trump administration ends a $200 million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat. The project, called PREDICT, identified 1,200 different viruses that had the potential to erupt into pandemics (including more than 160 novel coronaviruses) and also trained and supported staff in 60 foreign laboratories – including the Wuhan lab that identified 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. (Source)


Trump and COVID-19

As COVID-19 transitions to being a huge issue in the US, it might be easy to forget how we arrived here. Below is an incomplete chronology of quotes, mainly from Trump. (Note some of the list I cribbed from reddit).

January 3: The CDC is first alerted to a public health event in Wuhan, China

January 8: CDC issues first warning.

January 18: Trump dismissed January coronavirus warnings from Health Secretary Alex Azar as ‘alarmist’. Was more interested in vaping ban.

January 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

January 24: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

January 29: WH internal memo by Peter Navarro: “The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” the memo said. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

January 30: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully”

February 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

February 7:

February 9: (Trump) shared with Fox News his view that “China is very, you know, professionally run, in the sense that they have everything under control. I really believe they are going to have it under control fairly soon.”

February 10:

February 13: “We think and we hope, based on all signs that the problem goes away in April.”

February 14:

  • “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm ― historically, that has been able to kill the virus. So we don’t know yet; we’re not sure yet.”
  • “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus.”

February 19: “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along”

February 20: Stock Market crashes

February 24: 53 Confirmed Cases

  • is very well under control in our country,” Trump told reporters, adding, “We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are in all cases [doing well], I have not heard anything other [than that].”
  • Trump tweets that the virus “is very much under control” and the stock market “starting to look very good to me!”
  • We’re really down to probably 10, most of the people are outside of danger right now.”

February 25: 57 Confirmed Cases

  • “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”
  • “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away… They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”
  • A senior White House official falsely claims the virus has been “contained”
  • Trump falsely claims Ebola mortality was “a virtual 100%”
  • Trump falsely claims “nobody had ever even heard of Ebola” in 2014

February 26: 60 Confirmed Cases

  • President Trump threatened to fire a top CDC official after her blunt warnings that COVID-19 would become a pandemic caused the stock market to plunge.
  • Trump wrongly says the coronavirus “is a flu”
  • Trump wrongly says the flu death rate is “much higher” than Dr. Sanjay Gupta said
  • You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
  • “We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

February 28: 63 Confirmed Cases

  • Trump baselessly hints at an immigration link to the virus
  • At a rally in South Carolina – “They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.
  • Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, right? Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue.”
  • “We’re ordering a lot of supplies. We’re ordering a lot of, uh, elements that frankly we wouldn’t be ordering unless it was something like this. But we’re ordering a lot of different elements of medical.”

February 29: Trump exaggerates Tim Cook’s comments about Apple and China

March 1: Azar wrongly says 3,600 people have been tested

March 2: 100 Confirmed Cases

  • Trump falsely claims “nobody knew” the number of US flu deaths
  • Trump says a vaccine is coming “relatively soon”
  • “You take a solid flu vaccine, you don’t think that could have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?”
  • “A lot of things are happening, a lot of very exciting things are happening and they’re happening very rapidly.”

March 4: 158 Confirmed Cases

  • “If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better.”
  • Trump falsely claims Obama impeded testing
  • Trump wrongly says as many as 100,000 people died of the flu in 1990
  • Trump says “the borders are automatically shut down”
  • Trump says he believes there was a coronavirus death in New York, though there hadn’t been one
  • Trump falsely claims the Obama administration “didn’t do anything” about H1N1

March 5: 221 Confirmed Cases

  • “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work.”
  • “The United States… has, as of now, only 129 cases… and 11 deaths. We are working very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible!”
  • Trump misleadingly describes a Gallup poll relating to his handling of the virus
  • Trump wrongly claims the virus only hit the US “three weeks ago”

March 6: 319 Confirmed Cases

  • “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down… a tremendous job at keeping it down.”
  • “Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. And the tests are beautiful…. the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good.”
  • “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it… Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”
  • “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
  • As the number of cases and deaths in Italy rises, Trump says the number is “getting much better”
  • Trump exaggerates the number of people on the Grand Princess cruise ship
  • Trump falsely says US coronavirus numbers “are lower than just about anybody”
  • Trump baselessly muses that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US jobs numbers
  • It came out of China… we closed it down, we stopped it.”
  • Azar wrongly claims there is no test shortage
  • Trump says he crisis is “an unforeseen problem” that “came out of nowhere”.

March 7: Asked whether he was concerned about the virus’s spread on March 7, the president said, “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. No, we’ve done a great job

March 8: “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus.”

March 9: 704 Confirmed Cases

  • Pence says Trump’s “priority” was getting Americans off the ship
  • “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.”
  • “This blindsided the world.”

March 10: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

March 11:

March 13: 2,183 Confirmed Cases

March 14: “It’s something that nobody expected

March 15: “TODAY IS A NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER. GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

March 16:I give myself a 10 out of 10

March 17: “I’ve felt it was a pandemic before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do was look at other countries…I have always viewed it as very serious.”

March 18: The virus was “a very unforeseen thing.”

March 20: (hydroxychloroquine) “What do you have to lose !

March 23: 43,781 Confirmed Cases

March 24: 54,856 Confimed Cases

March 25: 68,211 Confirmed Cases

  • The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”

March 26: 81,896 Confirmed Cases

  • The USA has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

March 28: 123,578 Confirmed Cases

March 29: “My administration has done a job on really working across government and with the private sector, and it’s been incredible. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, I have to say.”

March 31: 163,788 Confirmed Cases

April 1: 188,639 Confirmed Cases, 4059 Dead

April 2: 240,344 Confirmed Cases, 5,807 Dead

April 3: 273,777 Confirmed Cases, 7,028 Dead

April 22: 844,440 Confirmed Cases, 47,227 Dead

  • US has 3rd of all confirmed cases in the world
  • Has 4 times as many cases as next nearest – Spain
  • Has nearly twice the deaths as the next nearest – Italy
  • US has 4% of world population – meaning US has nearly 10 times as many cases as the world average

Some other useful links

“I’ve felt it was a pandemic before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do was look at other countries…I have always viewed it as very serious.”

Donald TRUMP (MAR 17 2020)

Wait. What? If we believe him, that makes the months of saying ‘it’s not a problem’ much much worse after all he ‘felt’ it was a big problem. If he’s lying (what’s new) then after realizing it really is a problem he’s lying through his teeth. So now we are supposed to believe this guy who has just flipped 180 and now ‘doing stuff’ is doing the right things for the right reasons and doing them well? No. He’s still the same corrupt, lying, incompetent, gas-lighting narcissist he was before.

We also can’t forget the playing the violin whilst Rome burns meme that Trump tweeted out. It’s hilarious aMiRiTe? No. If it makes sense – it means he’s laughing at your adversity. Or it doesn’t make sense because he doesn’t understand what it means. Maybe it’s both.

In the past Trump and his administration has been described as malice tempered by incompetence. There is some truth here perhaps in that if he wasn’t so inept the amount of damage he could have inflicted could have been far worse.

With CV-19 we are in an exciting new phase of ‘malice and incompetence’.

In a normal world he would resign. But we know that’s not going to happen not least, because if he does and some of his surrounding lackeys are likely going to jail.

One thing Trump and co put a lot of time and effort into is lies and covering up. Unfortunately because Trump, the Republicans and the surrounding entourage of grifters, sycophants and apologists, the ‘checks and balances’ have been broken and ignored. Even inept cover ups work surprisingly well. The population at large deals with this largely by a combination of ignoring it and excuses.

There may have been a slight shift, even some conservative pundits are now openly criticizing him. I wouldn’t hold your breath for Republicans to do anything meaningful. They are all in on driving off the cliff.

That impeachment acquittal is not aging well is it? It was obvious then and now – forgetting everything else (like obvious crime) – Trump is unwilling and unable to do the job.

There is plenty more that can and should be said about this. I wrote this post mainly to record the prior events. Who knows quite how this will play out – but hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is sensible. That the next danger, over and above the obvious is, how Trump and Republicans will use “never let a good disaster go to waste”?

Don’t panic. Be safe and careful out there.