Think, Beast

I haven’t been outside at all today, which is making it a little hard for me to think. Like Beckett’s Lucky though, I’m going to do my best to try.

We had Zoom dinner last night with friends who live in Brooklyn; they’ve both been mentioned in these posts before, but out of respect for privacy – something Zoom itself is, unsurprisingly, learning all about of late – I’ll just say this time that they’re lovely, thoughtful, and between them, have some unique topical insights into our current national and global predicament.

(An aside on the subject of Zoom: The revelations about the company’s flawed encryption, ties to China, etc., etc. are, of course, all worrying given that many of us have now become dependent upon Zoom or its equivalent to conduct many aspects of our personal and professional lives. As usual, The Intercept’s reporting on this matter has been excellent; however, in pointing to Signal as a secure Zoom alternative, I believe they inadvertently perform some sleight of hand. Yasha Levine has done good investigative journalism looking into Signal and Tor, and, unfortunately, his conclusions suggest that – like a one-time presidential candidate the people of these United States may still vaguely recall advised, in what he despicably called “the Richard Nixon Lesson” – we may simply, still, have to embrace a policy around digital privacy encapsulated in three words: “Don’t record it.” Easier said than done, of course, when many of our lives have migrated almost entirely online and we’re increasingly surrounded by ubiquitous surveillance devices, but, be all that as it may, the issue of surveillance, in turn, brings me back to the subject at hand: The pandemic.)

Without going into full news-round-up mania, I’m going to briefly touch on some recent developments that relate to surveillance, economic meltdown, and the ongoing end-ability of our national crisis. First, surveillance: A leaked memo shows that Amazon – the company, not the forest; and no stranger to surveillance – conspired to smear Chris Smalls, a manager at the company’s Staten Island warehouse who was fired for organizing his co-workers to demand basic steps be taken to protect their health; according to TechCrunch, “Google is now publishing coronavirus mobility reports, feeding off users’ location history”; The Intercept reports that, “The U.S. Navy has taken the extraordinary step of relieving the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt of his command […] after he wrote a memo sounding the alarm on an exploding coronavirus infection on board […] his ship” (a story the reporting on which has troubled me for the utter lack of attention generally paid to the Guamanian people and what the disembarking of all those sailors may mean for them); also from The Intercept, coverage of how the “NYPD’s Aggressive Policing Risks Spreading the Coronavirus”; Democracy Now! has a feature today entitled, “As Virus Spreads in Philippines, So Does Authoritarianism” about President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal and ineffectual approach to confronting the pandemic (though, like India’s similarly draconian measures, I think they can fairly be considered effectual to the extent that they advance the underlying authoritarian agendas of the men enacting them); and the Thomson Reuters Foundation headlines, “World risks ‘sleepwalking into surveillance’ with coronavirus controls.” Generally, not a very cheery picture.

On the subject of economic meltdown, it’s bad and – like the pandemic itself – getting rapidly worse. A thoughtful and well-informed neighbor opines – in view of the devastation being wrought – that we have to “reopen” as, already, “We are entering Great Depression territory. ” CityLab has up what I found a mind-numbing piece against rent strike (the argument of which is predicated on the indispensability of mortgage-backed securities to the US economy; though, to be fair, with its author, I share the conviction that Keynesian-style stimulus, including direct cash transfers to individuals, is a sensible approach to our current grim economic circumstances); and ever-perspicacious Doug Henwood breaks down, graphically, how bad our economic situation already was pre-pandemic, and how much worse it has gotten in the very short time since COVID-19 hit New York, and the financial markets – and our national economy along with them – imploded.

Finally, in some brighter news, the end-ability of our national crisis: It is imminently endable. Just ask Dr. Rishi Desai who marvelously baffled a Fox News host in slamming the US’s “very weak response” to the pandemic and praising South Korea’s “really strong” one; or look to Dr. Jason Wang – “former project manager for Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Reform Task-force [and] now the director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention […] at Stanford University” – who was interviewed on Democracy Now! today about how Taiwan has, thus far, managed to largely suppress COVID-19 in spite of its close proximity to and deep ties with China (ties that included, at the time of the initial outbreak, a number of direct daily flights between the island and Wuhan); or turn back to The Intercept, which reports “Privacy Experts Say Responsible Coronavirus Surveillance Is Possible” (one of the six key pillars of which “Responsible […] Surveillance” is, according to the piece, to “Beware of Attempts at “Reputation Laundering” like those of Google mentioned above, or of Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group, which have been widely reported on today).

To come full circle to the Zoom dinner with our friends (in which we can hope no hackers or malicious state actors took any interest), one of them highlighted that he’s been consistently trying to point to the fact that solutions exist, which they do. This is not an unsolved or unsolvable problem. It’s just an un-enacted solution. I’ve made the same point on a number of occasions myself, but in the past few days, have been leaning more heavily into trying to prepare people (myself included) for that to which we’ve already committed ourselves as a country. Under the absolute best-case scenario going forward, we’re in for a painful, catastrophic mess of an April. Truly, the cruelest month. But it need not also be a catastrophic May, June, and July, though under our current not-leadership from DC, it is, in fact, shaping up to be a catastrophic August and beyond, as well.

This is where I respectfully disagree with my neighbor though; there’s no question we have to stanch the economic bleeding, but I believe the type of wholesale reopening which our President, until a few days ago, was advocating – timed to commemorate the rising of Christ about which and whom our President couldn’t give two shits – will lead not to less economic suffering, but much more of it. If every healthcare system in the country collapses more or less simultaneously because we reopened the economy without having Singapore, or Taiwan, or South Korea-style preventive / public health measures in place, there will be no option but to return, in even worse shape, to the measures which are now causing so much economic and social suffering – that, or we actually go the path which I’ve regularly pilloried in recent weeks, of just accepting that a great many people will die, that our hospitals will be overwhelmed, our healthcare workers will get sick (many of them gravely so) in very large numbers, and then we do our best to simply go about our business – everything just business-as-usual – in spite of the systemic collapse. That is, in fact, an option, though in my view, not a very humane or good one.

As for our ability to confront the crisis of our healthcare system head on, so much for the “Herculean” efforts of which our Mayor (a Mayor who must be doing some deep thinking about how long he chose to keep NYC public schools open in March after the death, yesterday, from COVID-19 of “Beloved Brooklyn Teacher Sandra Santos-Vizcaino“) has been speaking here in New York, the efforts which I, just yesterday, called “nothing short of incredible“: The Javits Center facility, which was supposed to be for COVID-negative patients only, is already being converted into a COVID-19 treatment site as the surging number of very sick people outstrips our healthcare system’s ability to treat them; ProPublica reports that, “In Desperation, New York State Pays Up to 15 Times the Normal Prices for Medical Equipment”; and, of the USNS Comfort – the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship now docked at Pier 90 on the Upper West Side, the New York Times quotes “a top hospital executive” as saying, “blunt[ly]”, “”It’s a joke.””

In fact, hard to believe, but just now, I received an Amber Alert-style Emergency Alert on my phone which reads, in part: “Attention all healthcare workers: New York City is seeking licensed healthcare workers…”.

If we “reopen” now, I believe it will be a disaster. Closed, now, as we are, it is already a disaster. Call it a rock and a hard place. But one of the hardest places of all to be right now is in detention, and inspired by the work of a friend, I donated today to this GoFundMe to support the efforts of Al Otro Lado, which “works to release asylum seekers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.” If you’re able to, I encourage you to do the same thing.

I’m still yet to do the deeper look at hospital capacity that I was hoping to, but I see plenty of more well-resourced and credible outlets doing that work, so I’ll simply share a few basic resources that I found useful: This Washington Post article on ICU bed capacity across the US; this Wiki on hospital bed capacity by country; and, especially, this interactive “predictive model” from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (to which I came through another one of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s helpful newsletters).

Hope you’re staying healthy, sane, and kind out there. We come through this with love, strength, and in solidarity with those closest to the knives.

2 thoughts on “Think, Beast

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