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Celerity's Journal
Celerity's Journal
April 5, 2020

Democracy, authoritarianism and crises

The coronavirus crisis may be a natural disaster but, Sheri Berman writes, how governments are responding is a product of their politics.


An old adage has it that crises don’t make a person, but rather reveal what s/he is made of. The same applies to political systems: during times of crisis, their underlying strengths and weaknesses are laid bare. When the coronavirus crisis began, there was much discussion of how it revealed the underlying weaknesses of Chinese authoritarianism. Faulty bottom-up and top-down information flows in China hindered an early understanding of the nature and depth of the crisis. Local officials in Wuhan prioritised maintaining favour with party elites over protecting the health and wellbeing of their citizens, contributing to cover-ups which sent the catastrophe ‘careening outward’. The Beijing regime’s bureaucratic nature and reliance on ‘performance legitimacy’—in return for giving up their freedom, citizens are promised effective government—created incentives for it to suppress, rather than deal openly with, bad news and difficult challenges.

That such flawed government decision-making and elite infighting helped turn Iran into the next epicentre of the pandemic reinforced a narrative of authoritarian weakness in the face of crisis. But as the pandemic spread, more than the frailties of authoritarian regimes were unveiled. In theory, inherent features of democracy—a free press and information flows, politicians, parties and governments responsive to citizens and trusted by them, officials and bureaucrats appointed on the basis of merit rather than connections—should provide advantages in dealing with crises. But the coronavirus has made clear how divorced the theory and practice of democracy have, in some cases, become.

Divergent paths

Over the past years, democratic countries have followed widely divergent paths. In some, democracy has remained resilient. Such countries have been able to exploit democracy’s inherent strengths in responding to the crisis. In others, democratic norms and institutions have degraded to the point where democracy’s theoretical strengths are nowhere in evidence. In the former category, for example, are the Nordic countries. Experts consistently rate these countries’ democracies as strong, while their citizens’ satisfaction with democracy and levels of social trust remain very high. The responses of the region’s governments and societies to the crisis clearly reflect these features.

In Denmark, the minority social-democrat government rapidly negotiated a crisis package with trade unions, employer organisations and other political parties, which paired a ‘domestic lockdown’ to limit the spread of the virus with radical measures to protect citizens and businesses from the worst effects of the downturn inevitably accompanying it. Among these measures are promises to cover at least 75 per cent of the salaries of company employees who would otherwise be fired and loans, tax delays and other help for businesses that keep workers on the rolls.

April 5, 2020

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April 5, 2020

NYT : Insurance premiums could spike as much as 40 percent next year

Coronavirus May Add Billions to U.S. Health Care Bill

Insurance premiums could spike as much as 40 percent next year, a new analysis warns, as employers and insurers confront the projected tens of billions of dollars in additional costs of treating coronavirus patients.


With so much still uncertain about how widespread hospitalizations for coronavirus patients will be around the United States, a new analysis says premiums could increase as much as 40 percent next year if the pandemic results in millions of Americans needing hospital stays.

“Health plans went into 2020 with no hint of coronavirus on the horizon,” said Peter V. Lee, the executive director of Covered California, the state insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act, which conducted the analysis. To protect businesses and individuals from sharply higher rates, he supports a temporary federal program that would cover some of these costs. “No insurer, no state, planned and put money away for something of this significance,” Mr. Lee said.

So far, some 94,000 people have become infected in the United States, according to official counts, and at least 1,400 have died. In New York state alone, nearly 1,600 patients were in intensive-care units as of Friday morning and the numbers have been rising all week. Mr. Lee’s organization estimated the total cost to the commercial insurance market, which represents the coverage currently offered to 170 million workers and individuals through private health plans. The analysis does not include costs for people enrolled in government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Depending on how many people need care, insurers, employers and individuals could face anywhere from $34 billion to $251 billion in additional expenses from the testing and treatment of Covid-19. according to the analysis. At the high end, the virus would add 20 percent or more to current costs of roughly $1.2 trillion a year. “There’s a lot we don’t know,” Mr. Lee said. “These are ranges.” While the bill before Congress would provide hospitals some financial relief, it may not result in any change to how much hospitals charge private insurers and employers for care, he said.


updated numbers on the US


April 5, 2020

BBC: Coronavirus: US accused of 'piracy' over mask 'confiscation'

The US has been accused of redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use, in a move condemned as "modern piracy".


The local government in Berlin said the shipment of US-made masks was "confiscated" in Bangkok. The FFP2 masks, which were ordered by Berlin's police force, did not reach their destination, it said. Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, said the masks were presumably diverted to the US.

The US company that makes the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump. On Friday, Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand.

"We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them," Mr Trump said at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the White House. Mr Geisel said the diversion of masks from Berlin amounted to an "act of modern piracy", urging the Trump administration to adhere to international trading rules.

"This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners," the minister said. "Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild-west methods." Mr Geisel's comments echo the sentiments of other European officials, who have complained about the buying and diversion practices of the US.

April 4, 2020

The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. (Taiwan has 24 million people, and only 5 deaths)

Taiwan was more prepared for the coronavirus than any other country, but the WHO puts politics first.


There is an island nation off the southeastern coast of China where public health officials saw the pandemic coming—and took action before China did. Nearly three months after reporting its first confirmed case of Covid-19, this country has only reported 348 positive diagnoses and five deaths. It was one of the earliest countries to be hit and has one of the lowest infection rates. But you wouldn’t know any of this if you got your information from the World Health Organization. The country is Taiwan, which the WHO refuses to recognize as a sovereign state.

Despite early warnings from Taiwanese officials, the organization kept the island cut off from its global information networks. Now, it may be the rest of the world that’s paying the price. For nearly half a century, the People’s Republic of China has effectively blocked Taiwan from joining the WHO. Despite never having exercised authority over the island, the Chinese Communist Party officially considers Taiwan part of its territory, and forces international organizations—including the United Nations and its agencies like the WHO—to affirm its view.

Last weekend, the absurdity of this geopolitical paradox was laid bare in a news broadcast that quickly went viral. In a Skype interview, journalist Yvonne Tong of Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK asked Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, if the global health body would reconsider Taiwan’s membership. On Tong’s laptop screen, Aylward’s face twitched. He blinked for several seconds. Then he said he “couldn’t hear the question.” When Tong offered to repeat herself, Aylward cut in: “No, that’s OK, let’s move on to another question then.” “I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” said Tong. Aylward’s face disappeared—he had ended the call.

When Tong called back and repeated her question, Aylward replied, “Well, we’ve already talked about China. And when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job.” He thanked Tong and ended the call again. The surreal exchange lasted all of one minute. But for Taiwanese people, it summed up a lifetime of gaslighting. During this outbreak alone, the WHO has kept changing how it refers to this country of nearly 24 million, going from “Taiwan, China,” to “Taipei” to the newer and bizarre “Taipei and its environs.” It also allowed China to report Taiwan’s coronavirus numbers as part of its own total, instead of reporting Taiwan’s numbers alone—a conflation that created headaches for the smaller nation. Some other countries enacted travel restrictions on Taiwan along with China, despite the former’s drastically lower infection rate.


Taiwan part starts around 19 minutes in


April 4, 2020

Legal analyst Glenn Kirschner argues that Trump could face prosecution after he leaves office


Deaths from Covid-19 continued to mount this week as the U.S. surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases, more than any other country in the world. Experts increasingly point to President Trump’s willful negligence as a primary cause of the pandemic’s intensity, but MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner takes things a step further, arguing controversially that Trump could be legally liable for coronavirus deaths after he leaves office. He makes the case to Mehdi Hasan on this week’s podcast.
April 4, 2020

QAnon Coronavirus conspiracy theorists are too nuts even for a zombie-apocalypse movie scenario

A man under the influence of QAnon conspiracy theories about the USNS Mercy's coronavirus mission attempted to ram the ship Tuesday with a locomotive he ran off the tracks.


The people who write zombie-apocalypse screenplays clearly missed out. In all the dozens of movies and TV shows about pandemic-fueled end-of-the-world scenarios, none of them managed to imagine whole subpopulations of characters who believed the zombie disease was actually a “deep state” hoax, a pretense for government enslavement, and rushed out into the streets to join the zombies and attacking efforts to combat them. Because that’s what we have now—not zombies, of course: rather, with thousands dead in a pandemic, there are thousands more who believe it’s all a big conspiracy. And some of them are taking action—the kind that gets even more people killed.

Take the locomotive engineer in Los Angeles who, on Tuesday, intentionally derailed a train near the docking site of the U.S. Naval Ship Mercy, which has been a major focus of the American response to the pandemic on the West Coast, in an attempt to damage the ship. The train engine smashed through concrete barriers at the track’s end, through a chain-link fence, through a couple of empty lots, and then halting about 800 yards away from the ship. As he was being arrested, the man who drove the engine—identified as Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro—told police: “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. … I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

The Department of Justice released a statement saying Moreno believed the Mercy “had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover.” The conspiracy theory at work here is one invented by “QAnon” activists—namely, that the Mercy is actually planning to take its shipful of COVID-19 victims to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Other QAnon theorists have been claiming that the pandemic is a product of a Chinese bioweapon.

Liz Crokin, a QAnon-loving pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, has been in the forefront of the theories about the Mercy. She posted a video on March 26—viewed over 7.2 thousand times—featuring footage from the interior of the USNS Mercy, speculating that the ship “could be used to treat rescued trafficking victims especially since they’re only taking non-COVID-19 patients,” as she wrote on Facebook.


These fuckers are crazier than a rat in a tin shithouse.

A Conspiracy Theory That 5G Is Causing The Coronavirus Is Spreading Alongside The Pandemic

Even actor Woody Harrelson has succumbed to the baseless hoax that cellphone infrastructure is spreading the coronavirus.


A screenshot from the second most-shared anti-5G video on YouTube.

New Agers, right-wingers, and QAnon conspiracy theorists think global elites are using 5G to spread the coronavirus pandemic.

The paranoia about 5G — the industry term for the fifth generation of wireless communications infrastructure — has risen for the last few years, but as the world battles the pandemic, a baseless hoax has spread that the technology that runs cellphones could secretly be causing the outbreak.

On Wednesday, actor Woody Harrelson posted about the conspiracy theory on his Instagram, writing, “a lot of my friends have been talking about the negative effects of 5G.” On Thursday, a 5G tower in Birmingham, England, went up in flames after a local Facebook group was flooded with anti-5G comments. (Local authorities said that it could have possibly been an electrical issue, but are awaiting further information before investigating.)


5G has so far rolled out in about 40 countries worldwide, most notably South Korea and China, but also in dozens of US cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Before the coronavirus, fears about 5G tended to focus on cancer, the risk of which people feared could be increased from cellphone radiation. The evidence to support such a fear is weak to nonexistent, although meteorologists have worried that the technology could disrupt weather satellite forecasts.

Misinformation falsely claiming the coronavirus is a bioweapon has circulated since English-language reports of the outbreak began circulating in January. Depending on which internet rabbit hole you fall down, the coronavirus was created by the Chinese government, is part of a human depopulation scheme by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, or stemmed from a tainted batch of children’s blood that the world’s celebrities drink to stay young. So perhaps it was somewhat inevitable that these two separate conspiracy theories — that 5G had some evil purpose and that the coronavirus was a bioweapon — would graft themselves onto each other.

April 4, 2020

German cathedral dusts off relics of St Corona, patron of epidemics


AACHEN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany’s Aachen Cathedral has dug out the relics of little-known Saint Corona, patron saint of resisting epidemics, from its treasure chamber and is polishing up her elaborate shrine to go on show once the coronavirus pandemic has passed. The pandemic, confirmed to have infected nearly half a million people worldwide, including more than 30,000 in Germany, has boosted public interest in the Christian martyr, believed to have been killed by the Romans around 1,800 years ago.

The cathedral had planned even before the coronavirus outbreak to display St Corona’s shrine this summer as part of an exhibition on gold craftsmanship. It is not clear when people will now be able to view the shrine due to tough restrictions on gatherings imposed to help combat the spread of the virus. But experts are painstakingly cleaning the gold, bronze and ivory shrine, which has been hidden from public view for the last 25 years, in preparation for when it can go on display.

“We have brought the shrine out a bit earlier than planned and now we expect more interest due to the virus,” said Aachen Cathedral spokeswoman Daniela Loevenich. Corona is believed to have been only about 16 years old when the Romans killed her, probably in Syria, for professing the Christian faith.

The girl suffered a particularly excruciating death, according to legend. She was tied to two bent palm trees and then torn apart as the trunks were released. “That is a very gruesome story and led to her becoming the patron of lumberjacks,” said Brigitte Falk, head of Aachen Cathedral Treasure Chamber, adding that it was pure chance that she also became a patron saint for resisting epidemics.


2017 snapshot of an Austrian church confirming St. Corona was linked to pandemics.


April 3, 2020

Pete Buttigieg's Next Move: A PAC Called Win the Era

Donors have been told that the group will support candidates, specifically in down-ballot races, it hopes will become future leaders.


Pete Buttigieg, who rose from obscurity to narrowly win the Iowa caucuses before dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary last month, has taken some of the first steps toward outlining his post-campaign future. Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is forming both a political action committee, called Win the Era, and an affiliated nonprofit group, according to people briefed on the plans.

Donors have been told that the PAC will support and endorse candidates who represent generational change, specifically in down-ballot races, in hopes of helping to create a “pipeline” for the party. The groups will also promote issues such as climate change and cybersecurity. A skeletal version of a website that refashions Mr. Buttigieg’s 2020 logo, replacing the word “Pete” with “Win the Era,” is already online, though it has not been advertised. “There is simply too much at stake to retreat to the sidelines now,” the site reads. “Together we can build the era that must come next.”

Mr. Buttigieg, whose second term as mayor ended Jan. 1, is just 38 and seen as one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. But he also finds himself out of office and with no clear path back to electoral politics in Republican-dominated Indiana. He emerged as one of the surprise fund-raising standouts of the 2020 campaign, raising more than $100 million in a little more than a year. He won over traditional fund-raisers, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, who had bundled huge sums for President Barack Obama, as well as small online contributors. He raised more than $43 million from donors who gave less than $200.

His primary campaign committee ended up with at least $2.8 million in general election funds, according to calculations by the Campaign Finance Institute. Because Mr. Buttigieg did not become the nominee, that money must now be refunded. But Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign is now asking donors to instead redirect the money to seed the PAC, which can accept contributions of up to $5,000 each. “The work of electing a forward-thinking generation of Democratic candidates never ends,” said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. Buttigieg and a senior adviser to his campaign, when asked about his plans. “Pete will do his part by building and leading the Win the Era PAC as we get closer to the November election.”


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