Some of This Will Inspire Us. Much of This Will Not Be Pretty
The following post was one I drafted back in early March, but never posted. It was bumped by other news and forgotten. At the time, we were just starting to experience the pandemic that now dominates so much of our lives. Little did we know back then just how big an effect we were about to experience, and how long this fight was going to be. Looking back on this post, it seems both prophetic and a bit innocent, almost naive. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot older and a bit more battle scared than I did just back in early Spring of this year.
But the central tenant is correct. In terrible ways, we are living in a big moment of history. Let’s pay attention and learn from it
Did You Feel That Rumble?
These are frightening times for pretty much anyone who is paying attention. In spite of that, the title of today’s blog is not intended to stoke fear. Rather, the intent is to note that every so often, truly momentous things happen. We are at such a point in history now.
We all have elements in this current environment to worry about. Nevertheless, I encourage us to look at the larger contexts, because we are unlikely (hopefully) to see again such big pieces moving on the chess board of history in our lifetimes. It seems like the last few weeks have been gigantic in their impact, but these are just the early tremors. Big impacts and big changes are coming on so many fronts. Historians will write epic tomes about what we are about to experience, good and bad. You will be an eyewitness to history on several fronts. Let’s look at a few of them.
For the longest time, we have lagged in some important components of health, separate from infrastructure issues (see below for that discussion). In spite of advances in many areas, we still grow vaccines mostly by growing samples in eggs over long periods, then extracting them. Too bad if you have egg allergies. Does this strike anyone else as nuts?
We need a faster, more precise methodology here. And while we are at it, can we make any improvements in matching vaccines with what they are designed to treat? We often end up with effectiveness rates around 50%. For the coronavirus, we are talking of something like 18 months to develop and field a reliable and safe vaccine. This is not a call for shortcuts, but for a Manhattan style project to overhaul how we do this. We should see a push to the 19th century behind once and for all.
If anyone thought our medical infrastructure was robust and coordinated, the past couple of weeks should have enlightened them otherwise. It is striking how quickly we went to over-flowing capacity in place after place, and we have just begun this process. If you thought our medical capacities were coordinated, with good processes for information flow and prioritization, I invite you to watch any of Donald Trump’s press conferences since all this began.
There are systemic shortfalls over and above the feckless incompetence of this administration, and that should be the focus once adults move back into the White House. We need a standing set of protocols on state, regional and national levels to coordinate policy, purchase equipment and supplies, and determine surge capacities we need. No small number of the people who are dying now are doing so because we lack these procedures.
The good news is that the medical and first responder communities are populated by selfless heroes. Let us not forget that.
The scale and speed of this thing is causing Americans to really look at how we feel about community. Most, it appears, are reacting well. There are those involved in hoarding, buying guns and ammo, and more than a few Republicans indicating that if the death of a bunch of older people is the price to restarting the economy sooner, rather than later, so be it. Fortunately, most people seem to recognize that this is thinly disguised eugenics, would not work anyway, and is immoral.
We may well come out of this thing with an enhanced sense of community. What will we do with that? What will enlightened leaders do with that? I suspect we will fritter it away, as we did after 9/11, but we have a real opportunity here to redefine who we consider as our neighbors. How might that be translated into legislation and spending priorities?
As we mentioned in a posting last week, none of the old economic models are working. The world is in for some tough, muddled times while it sorts out the new world order. This is to be a time of both risk and opportunity. If the new and better models of capitalism can find support out of all this, a powerful dividend awaits us. People eager to spend for social welfare are beginning to see how deep a hole one could dig is incautious. People who hated government and any taxes are learning the hard way we need government for a lot of things.
The time is ripe for a new order and new approaches to economics. But first, we must halt the economic hemorrhaging, stabilize the economy, and begin getting well, even if with some old tools and concepts. One of the most striking numbers I saw this week dealt with unemployment. At the height of the last great recession, something just over 600,000 people filed for unemployment in one week. Last week over 3.3 million did so. We are in very new and different territory.
Presidential Power and Competence
Once again, we learn the hard way that incompetence in the White House spreads far and wide. Let’s get past the incidents and study the current models of governance. How to keep checks and balances while still taking proactive initiatives.
This administration has a playbook given to it and chose to ignore it. Is there a better way to avoid, or at least minimize, false news.
As fundamental task for government as exists. The previous administration did a lot of it and passed it on. The information and analysis passed on where promptly put in a drawer and forgotten. We can see the results.
Might we consider some legislated testing of plans under stressful conditions, with results shared where useful? The military does this ad nauseum. And it pays off. So too do some other elements of government, but not all. Doing it at the top level seems to depend on the whim of the current president. We need a system with far more transparency and accountability.
National Security and Domestic Policy
It seems that the former is being neglected while mischief is afoot in the latter. The US now leads only in the bad sense (worst ally, highest virus casualty rates, etc.). This is fertile ground for adversaries. Watch for signs of trouble on the horizon. Much of the military and intelligence community is on patrol, but the national leadership is nowhere to be seen. Don’t be surprised if we take a hit somewhere and Trump declares “no one saw this coming.” Yes, we did.
Domestically, all sort of things are slipping in, via buried text in legislation, executive orders, departmental directives. We need tighter controls and better transparency on such things, especially in the areas of environment, health, and justice. Congress and the Press have a priority mission to address this and come up with solutions they both can contribute to in the future.
This is a whole separate posting to be done, but for now, let’s acknowledge how important the media has been in countering propaganda and outright lies. And yet- the press is weaker than it has ever been. It is still drowned out by social media and political machines. We really, really need a national conversation on this one. Every time the media is weakened or falls short, another piece of democracy dies.
Like I Said
There is a lot going on that when sorted out, will result in a different America in a different world. It will be interesting to see if we are up to the challenge and can seize the opportunities.
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