Prophet Seeking

Short piece today.

New York State is inching towards a phased, region-by-region reopening. (For readers unfamiliar, as I was until recently, with the ten official regions of New York State, here’s a helpful Wiki.) It’s too early to infer much from the nascent reopening experiences of hard-hit European countries; there have been a number of reports in the media about upticks in new cases and/or deaths (eg, in France and Germany) as countries lift lockdowns, but its unclear to me if these data are significant, or if they simply reflect, for example, the jagged variations that are to be expected when testing and reporting drop off over the weekend, then spike early in the work week. (Here’s the Our World in Data tracker of country-wise COVID-19 cases and deaths; it’s set for France but you can change the country by clicking in the lower left of the graph.)

Meanwhile, the United States is lurching into an epochal crisis, and I expect that the country will be in a state of meltdown/mass outcry/upheaval/paralysis by the end of this month. Painful stuff, and as we approach the nominal May 15th end of New York’s stay-at-home order (and I prepare to finally shave my beard), I increasingly feel the need to be involved in more organizing and action than I already am. Perhaps these posts will become weekly, or at least somewhat less frequent.

Yesterday, I mentioned both the good examples and cautionary tales to be found in the experiences of other countries around the world. Here’s a heartening Lancet one-pager on New Zealand’s to-date effective “elimination approach.” And here are a few worrying articles on what increasingly looks like Sweden’s failed “personal freedom” strategy (which as late as mid-April was still being covered ambivalently by some corporate media outlets); today, Sweden has 10x more COVID-19 deaths than either Norway or Finland (each of which has ~half of Sweden’s population). Interestingly, Sweden only has three to four times more confirmed cases than its neighboring countries though, suggesting that not only has Sweden taken insufficient preventive measures in the face of the pandemic, but that it is also radically under-testing. For those of us in the US, this description should, of course, sound eerily and ominously familiar.

As another sign of the dismal state of truth-telling in our mass media, an AP article – out this morning and entitled “Study: Virus death toll in NYC worse than official tally” – has been garnering significant attention. It’s conclusion? “Between March 11 and May 2, about 24,000” died of COVID-19 in NYC, so “about 5,300 more deaths than were blamed on the coronavirus in official tallies during those weeks.” Tragic, heartbreaking, hard-hitting reporting. Except today is May 12th, and on May 3rd (that is, the day after May 2nd), I wrote the following: “adding up the State’s figures for “Confirmed” deaths (13,538) with the City’s figure for “Probable” deaths (5,387) with my own figure for “Still-ignored” deaths (~4,500) yields ~23,500 COVID-19 deaths in NYC.” Factor in lags in reporting, and I’d say I was pretty close.

The Associated Press has 3,200 employees. I’ve been sitting around in my apartment for the last eight weeks. Why am I scooping them by 10 days on stories that only take doing basic arithmetic to report?

Finally, Ross Barkan has a long newsletter out that seeks to answer the question: “Is Andrew Cuomo actually doing a good job?” Short answer: No. (Viz., see the mortality figure above). But I encourage you to go read the whole piece, especially if you’re still fetishizing our tough guy Governor. Remember, at the same time that Robert Moses was taking the proverbial “meat ax” to immigrant and working class neighborhoods across New York City and building up a hyper-corrupt patronage system that, among other things, starved our mass transit of necessary funds, locked the City into its current destructive and anti-human dependence on automobiles, and concretized racial and class bias in the built environment on a monumental scale, he remained a widely beloved figure in New York, owing largely to his strangle-hold on/power over elected officials and the media.

It’s easy to forget that the subtitle of Robert Caro’s compendious, scathing biography – The Power Broker – is “Robert Moses and the Fall of New York”; looking back to January 15th – when Governor Cuomo should have been preparing for COVID-19 hitting New York, but wasn’t – here’s a Politico piece on Philip Mark Plotch’s Last Subway that summed up Ploch’s thesis thusly:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s full-throttled push to complete the Second Avenue Subway by 2017 had a deleterious effect on the rest of New York City’s subway system, culminating in his decision that same summer to declare a subway state of emergency, argues a new book by a respected urban planner.

We could be here all day if I start to, once again, make the case against Cuomo, so let me just make the point that – as with the Second Avenue Subway debacle and the questionable L Train miracle fix that the Governor forced, unilaterally and last-minute, down the MTA’s throat – the Governor may not be living (and we can hope will not still be in power) when the consequences of his actions during this crisis come into focus, but that doesn’t mean that many of the rest of us won’t be. While we bang our kitchenware at the Governor’s behest, the future is being shaped before our grief-blinded eyes, and, sadly, that future – which the Governor is shaping – is not looking pretty.

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