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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

We’re Not a Failed State, We’re a Failed Society

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO – photo by exposurebydjk. These are the highest dunes in North America.

Wrongo has written quite a bit lately about America’s fracturing social cohesion, and increasing white grievance as the greatest threats to our democracy. Here’s Wrongo on social cohesion:

“In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even those deminimus expectations are fraying today.”

The COVID pandemic has many here and abroad saying the US is a failed state. George Packer argued this recently in the Atlantic. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says calling America a failed state is:

“…not only wrong, it’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst…. So stop saying that.

Ok DHS, the US isn’t a failed state, but we may be a failed society. We seem to have decided that while we have the means to succeed, we no longer want to try. From Duck of Minerva:

“Failed states lack the resources, equipment, and government capacity to provide public safety and public services. States like Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen fit this description. The governments of these countries can often barely project authority beyond the walls of their government buildings.”

This doesn’t describe America. We are the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth. We’re home to more Nobel laureates than any country. Our universities are the envy of the world. Our technology sector is the world’s most dynamic.

We’ve lost the will to use our vast strengths to make America a better place for its citizens. If America had the will, we would have blunted the COVID-19 threat, as have New Zealand, South Korea and Germany. Those countries all have far more social cohesion than the US.

And while it’s true that Trump has failed the country, our society no longer feels that we have responsibilities to each other, or to the nation. We have lost the willingness to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community.

Individualism is a crucial part of our national ethos, but it has morphed into selfishness precisely when we need to see ourselves as all in this together. The result is that we’ve shown that we’re incapable of mobilizing the capacity to address the worst threat to public safety of the 21st century.

COVID is the just the third major crisis in the 21st century.

The first was 9/11. Back then, rural America didn’t see New York City as filled with immigrants and liberals who deserved their fate, but as a place that had taken a hit for the rest of us. America’s reflex was to mourn, and mobilize to help. The ensuing Iraq War and partisan politics erased much of that sense of national unity, and fed a bitterness toward the political class that hasn’t faded.

The second crisis was the Great Recession. Starting out, Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush administration officials largely cooperated with incoming Obama administration officials. The lasting economic pain of the Great Recession was felt only by people who had lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many have never recovered, and inequality has grown worse.

This second crisis drove a wedge between Americans: Between the upper and lower classes, between Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary people and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The lasting effect was increased polarization and discredited governmental authority.

Self-pity turned to anger. Anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks (or all of them mashed together) offset by a group identity of white grievance. America’s tone changed to defiant anger and hostility.

This was the American landscape that the Coronavirus found: In the cities and suburbs, globally connected desk workers were dependent on the essentials, a class of precarious and invisible service workers. In rural America, it found hollowed-out towns in revolt against the cities. In Washington, Corona found a government that had lost its ability to rally, or work together for the common good.

In America’s president, Corona happily found Donald Trump, the perfect fit for this decaying society. When a corrupt minority rules a dissatisfied majority, there are consequences.

We have literally fallen on our asses. So much damage in a relatively short period of time. Our republic is much flimsier than we thought.

We need a second period of reconstruction in America. The first reconstruction failed because our society failed it. The second reconstruction must fix our failed society.

It will be long and difficult.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 15, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Bright Angel Trail, in the middle foreground, Grand Canyon NP – photo by glowrocks

The chickens are coming home to roost. Michael Flor was originally the longest-hospitalized COVID-19 patient. Somehow, he survived. He came close enough to death that a night-shift nurse held a phone to his ear while his wife and kids said their final goodbyes.

Today, he’s recovering at home in West Seattle, WA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he just got the bill. From the Seattle Times:

“The total tab for his bout with the coronavirus:…$1,122,501.04, to be exact. All in one bill that’s more like a book because it runs to 181 pages.”

More from the Seattle Times:

“…the charge for his room in the intensive care unit was billed at $9,736 per day. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, the room was sealed and could only be entered by medical workers wearing plastic suits and headgear. For 42 days he was in this isolation chamber, for a total charged cost of $408,912.

He also was on a mechanical ventilator for 29 days, with the use of the machine billed at $2,835 per day, for a total of $82,215. About a quarter of the bill is drug costs.”

Those charges don’t include the two weeks of recuperating he did in a rehabilitation facility.

Since Flor has Medicare, it is unclear how much he will actually have to pay out of pocket. Further, since Congress set aside more than $100 billion to help hospitals and insurance companies defray the costs of the pandemic, it’s possible that Mr. Flor may not have to pay even the out-of-pocket charges normally billed by his Medicare Advantage policy, but that remains to be seen.

The insurance industry has estimated treatment costs of COVID-19 could top $500 billion, so unless Congress steps up with more money, co-pays for COVID will soon become injurious.

One outcome of the pandemic may be that America takes a closer look at universal health insurance. There are many detractors in Congress, but the sticker shock that so many families will see from COVID-19 cases may restart the discussion. Medicare for all could work: A single payer with a set system of prices would be good for employers and employees alike.

It will be hard. Universal health insurance is such a tough problem to solve that only 31 out of 32 developed nations have managed to do it.

A second issue for today is the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta over the weekend. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving a complaint about a man asleep in his vehicle, which forced other customers to go around his car to get their food at the window. The man, Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks, was given a field sobriety test, which he reportedly failed…”

Brooks grabbed a cop’s Taser. More:

“…surveillance footage from the Wendy’s appeared to show Brooks turn toward the police and attempt to fire the Taser as he ran away. That’s when the officer chasing Brooks pulled out his gun and shot him…”

Tasers are a form of de-escalation instead of using firearms. The Taser momentarily incapacitates, but ultimately doesn’t threaten life. So shouldn’t it follow that if a suspect steals a cop’s Taser and threatens to use it, the cop can’t just shoot him dead since he’s being threatened by an ultimately harmless weapon?

The cops had his car, it’s likely they knew where he lived. They could have picked him up at any time. Instead, they killed him. The police tried to do something, the suspect resisted, and in the heat of the moment, the cop escalated to show that he’s in charge. It was a terrible reason to kill someone.

Time to wake up America! We have both out-of-control policing and out-of-control capitalism harming our society. To help you wake up, listen to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 song, “Everyday People”. This is Playing for Change again, along with Turnaround Arts students. Trust Wrongo and watch:

Sample Lyric:

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah, yeah

And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Ooh, sha sha
We got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do

Of course there was racism back in 1968, but the musicians were preaching integration. Despite the racism back then, people were optimistic. Compare that to today.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 3, 2020

Last Sunday, PA Governor Tom Wolf requested:

“…as many people as possible wear a nonmedical or homemade mask when leaving their homes.”

This week in Mercer PA, a protest against the Pennsylvania governor’s stay at home restrictions yielded this sign:

If this woman thinks wearing a mask is slavery, then she has no idea what slavery is. She, (along with the rest of us) aren’t permitted to drive on the wrong side of the road, either. This isn’t the time for people who are asked to stay at home and to wear a mask when outside to sing: “Nobody knows the trouble I see”.

Speaking of masks and rules, how about Mike Pence:

Why didn’t the Mayo Clinic say: “Thank you for visiting us, Mr. Vice President, but I’m afraid you can’t enter the clinic without a mask per our policy.” Mayo may do fantastic work, but they failed utterly by letting Pence go in unmasked.

Will Mitch pass aid to the states?

Where Wrongo lives, the nurses, fire fighters, police, and town workers are preponderantly Republican voters. Have they been screwed enough to realize they’ve been voting AGAINST their own self interests?

Biden can’t run from this, no matter how many Dems hope he can:

Even the cows know opening meat processing plants without PPE is wrong:

We’re entering a different kind of graduation season:

(It’s control P for a PC)

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Time to End The Shit Show

The Daily Escape:

Early snow at Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton NP, WY – October 2019 photo by travlonghorns

The shit show visited on America by Republican nihilists must end. Here are three of the latest examples.

First, Bloomberg reports that Trump says he won’t allow federal aid for states facing budget deficits caused by the Coronavirus unless they take action against their sanctuary cities: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We would want certain things…as part of a deal with House Democrats to aid states, [Trump] he said at a White House event on Tuesday…including sanctuary city adjustments, because we have so many people in sanctuary cities.”

Yes, Trump wants to hold Democratic states and cities hostage unless they end their sanctuary designations. He has previously tried to cut off their federal funding unless they change their pro-immigrant policies, and he thinks now he has some leverage.

Second, Mitch McConnell and industry lobbying groups want to make immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits a condition for state aid. In a Monday interview on Fox News Radio, McConnell said he considers liability protections for companies a non-negotiable demand for the next coronavirus stimulus legislation:

 “That’s going to be my red line….Trial lawyers are sharpening their pencils to come after healthcare providers and businesses, arguing that somehow the decision they made with regard to reopening adversely affected the health of someone else.”

McConnell is arguing that companies should have the right to be negligent, and suffer no consequences for negligence that kills their staff.

As some states begin opening their economies, lobbyists say retailers, manufacturers, restaurants and other businesses struggling to start back up need temporary limits on legal liability. The lobbyists want to give companies more protection against lawsuits by customers or employees who contract the virus and accuse the business of being the source of the infection.

Think about this: Workmen’s compensation takes care of what might happen to an employee, and does so at ridiculously low rates, even for death benefits. So this means that the primary corporate liability issue is over employees who bring the virus home from work and infect family members. Under the new legislation, family members would be precluded from filing a suit against the employer.

What about corporate liability for retail customers? Would retailers be held harmless if people getting sick are traceable to their store? There is a tension between companies having confidence to reopen, and employees and customers having confidence that they will be protected from unsafe practices that raise their chance of infection.

Lobbyists and Republicans want permanent changes to the business liability laws, while Trump is looking at how they could create some of those shields either via regulation, or executive order. But McConnell wants permanent legislation. His leverage is to make it a part of the next stimulus package.

Finally, GOP governors are holding their own constituents hostage: return to work immediately with no protection from the virus, or lose your unemployment checks:

“If you’re an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that’s a voluntary quit,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Friday. “Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money.”

The only exception for workers getting unemployment after not returning to work is if they are ill with the virus or taking care of a family member who has the disease. The situation is similar for workers in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday gave the go-ahead for retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to reopen on Friday.

“According to the Texas Workforce Commission, to qualify for unemployment benefits in the state, a worker must be “willing and able to work all the days and hours required for the type of work you are seeking…..employees who choose not to return to work will become ineligible for unemployment benefits.”

The only solution to these anti-worker policies is re-unionization of workers in nearly every industry, and these Republican efforts during the pandemic may energize that unionization.

Mitch wants to protect employers. Trump says the whole problem is China’s fault.

Now they’re teaming up to protect Smithfield, a Chinese company since 2013, to shield it from not protecting its American workforce. A positively Chinese idea!

At least there’s no pretense that they’re really just trying to increase employment.

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