Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID-19 and Suicide--The Dark Side of Narrative and the Agony of Pandemic

(Pic credit here)

Hysteria, obsession, and what feels like the inescapable reality of a pandemic served up in a never ending stream of exclamation points. Thsi si what surrounds the masses in thsi era of pandemic:
The COVID-19 pandemic brings suffering, and instability, and dislocation, and trauma, and loss.  And it brings death.  It brings the death of individuals, it brings the statistics of death, it brings the ratings of death, it brings accountability for death.  It brings a constant chatter about death--death that has come, death that is here, death that is yet to come.
Death is both a physical manifestation of personal tragedy and loss; death is an abstraction that is used as an illustration, as a sign, as the symbol and harbinger of this or that. Death becomes the marker because of the identity between pandemic and death.  This is not the orderly death that can be understood by the application of the metrics of the cycle of life, a production line in the factory ordering undifferentiated passages from birth to death, nor is this death that is positioned at the end of ordinary medical protocols for the ordinary experiences of life.  It is the ultimate terror--it brings with it the potential of death, where everyone is potentially marked even as only some suffer directly or indirectly.  But in the process death becomes the air we breathe, it becomes the substance of the information we receive.  It is the subtext of all communication and the excuse for every action. We are choking on the fumes of death and touched by its drama as it is played out in personal tragedy projected through the miracle of technology to all corners of the earth.
Pix Credit HERE
Every one of us experiences death, engages with it, and participates in its passage from a potentiality on the horizon, to the whirlwind that uproots everything, to the detritus of an engagement around us that is indifferent to the way in which we clean it up.  Death comes in the petri dishes that cruise ships have sometimes become; it surrounds islands of isolation like the rising sea, always threatening to overwhelm those islands of isolation situated precariously between the satisfaction of prevention and the guilt of as passive witness of the flows of death swirling about them. witness. To avoid testing is to tempt Death, to test positive is to acquire a marker of death's potential. 

The last three paragraphs are histrionic; they read like a bad poem; they are suffocating. They mean to convey intensity, panic, emotion, alarm, and all of the other reactions appropriate to a crisis of this kind.  They are meant to contribute to a narrative that is useful for getting people to take the pandemic seriously, and to treat institutional instructions with even greater seriousness. News reports, governmental statements, the analysis of experts, the attention of social media--all of these add layers  that in the end read like a constantly reinforcing reminder of societal distress at a macro and micro level.  

But the effects of these narratives are not necessarily always positive. In its more negative forms it may be possible to surmise that these pandemic narratives spread death beyond the effects of the COVID-19 virus and its attacks on the human body.  It penetrates the human psyche and insinuates itself as a point of ecstasy of pandemic, of a euphoria that moves from light to darkness. The frenzy of death that throbs through the reporting of the pandemic and through the responsibility borne by those who confront the physicality of death, is both a great molder of societal response, of popular feeling, and when it manifests as despair, in suicide.   

Suicide is worthy of far greater attention in the midst of the many challenges of the pandemic.  It is an expression of personal agony, of illness, of despair, and of the power of the narratives of pandemic--and its expression through mechanisms of societal communication, policy and management--that is likely a far more powerful factor in the framework of epidemic response than one might gather from the single minded focus on the narratives of state and of those who seek to use their voices to move discourse towards particular ends.  It kills as surely as the virus at the heart of the pandemic. "Crisis hotlines nationwide are surging with calls from Massachusetts to Oregon, both of which are states with “shelter-in-place” orders implemented, keeping people out of work and isolated at home. In Portland, Police Chief Jami Resch said Tuesday suicide threats or attempts are up 41 percent from this time last year and have jumped 23 percent since 10 days before a declared state of emergency" (More People Died From Suicide Than Coronavirus In Tennessee This Week).

Beyond the certainty of the alignment of a sociology of pandemic and suicide, of the culture of response and of this terrible ending of life, there is little but the vast space of knowledge in need of production (two examples below: Anxiety and depression likely to spike among Americans as coronavirus pandemic spreads; and a study of the mental healthj effectys of the pandemic on front line medical personnel in Wuhan (Factors Associated With Mental Health Outcomes Among Health Care Workers Exposed to Coronavirus Disease 2019)).  

At the same time there are stories.  And these stories of those who in the face of epidemic chose that path are worthy of retelling.  A few of those stories follow. Suicide is an an abstraction; it is the sum of the stories of individuals confronted by a context of meaning, of significance, we have all helped to build.

Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 and the Unadorned Italian Experience: Flora Sapio Reports from the Field

The world's attention moved quickly from China to Italy after February 2020.  Where this had been treated as an Asian problem around the New Year, that sense of distance evaporated quite quickly when the habits of globalization produced its inevitable result--the diffusion of what eventually was labelled "pandemic" around the world.

Italy has been hit hard by the CVID-19 pandemic.  Along with Spain, the human and institutional tragedies that COVID-19 will leave in its wake will require some time to assess.  Its lingering effects on EU Member States and on the structures and functioning of that great experiment in constitutional multilateralism remains to be seen. 

As part of the Conference Roundtable on COVID-19 and International Affairs, some of our participants have agreed to prov de periodic inputs for the Roundtable around which their live participation will be built.  The idea is to extend the boundaries of the Roundtable from a specific physical (even if only online) event to a learning experience that is both broader and more interactive over time. 

It is in that spirit that Flora Sapio has kindly contributed a brief and unadorned report of the Italian experience .  It follows below.  It may also be accessed in pdf form at the Conference-Roundtable website

Yuri Gonzalez Hernandez: Report on the Emerging Scope of COVID-19 in Cuba

(All Pix Yuri González Hernández )

The Coalition for Peace & Ethics has been reporting on the pandemic situation in Cuba (see here, here, and here). In particular we have been connecting the issues of sustainability and the UN sustainability development goals, especially related to water, and the situation of developing states like Cuba (see, Sustainability and COVID-19--Water Scarcity, Epidemics, and the Case of Cuba).

This post, prepared by Yuri Gonzalez Hernandez provides a brief and more general timeline of Cuba's engagement with the pandemic.  It is the story of a transformation from a state policy projecting medical assistance abroad, to one in which the state has to deal with a growing incidence of infection at home. It is particularly useful for comparing the arc of response in Cuba to other states in Latin America. To that end Mr. Gonzalez Hernandez will be reporting on responses in Panamá and Perú.

Mr. Gonzalez Hernandez is a Cuban Lawyer (University of Havana 2009) who is currently in residence at Penn State where he is working on his LLM degree. He had been worked as legal advisor for different Cubans companies, the tax office of La Havana and The Historian Office of the City of Havana. Since 2016 he has provided legal advice to self-employed workers, and also has participated in non-profit entrepreneur projects, aimed at the development of some communities of the City of Havana. He may be contacted at glezyuri15[AT]gmail.com 

The Report Follows below. 

It may also be found at the "Inputs" Section of the COVID-19 and International Affairs Roundtable Website(click here). In future posts we will consider  the Cuban government coverage of this matter (which may be unprecedented) and citizenship initiatives.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sustainability and COVID-19--Water Scarcity, Epidemics, and the Case of Cuba

Sustainability, which appeared to be slated for substantial attention and action by both governments and enterprises, appears to have receded a little into the background as states and enterprises seek to survive COVID-19 while taking measures to confront and respond to the pandemic.

To the extent sustainability remains in the public consciousness--and that of social media and its influencers--it appears to be centered on economic sustainability (itself subject to whatever meaning makes the most sense to those advancing this discursive trope).  The UN Secretary General, a guest of the G20 at its 26 March 2020 meeting was quoted (by the propaganda apparatus of the UN) on this point: “We must work together now to set the stage for a recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, guided by our shared promise — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, he concluded. (A sustainable global economy must arise once COVID-19 pandemic is reversed, UN chief tells G-20 summit). See also here, here, and here

Buts sustainability is not limited to the shepre of human economic activity; nor does it revolve around the reconstitution of the customs and traditions of economic behaviors (and the rules created to enforce them). The global community has reminded itself of the complex interplay among a large number of goals the coordinated interworkings of which are necessary to achieve sustainability as something other than the maximization of value for each of its fractured and disconnected parts.

Among the sustainability development goals is Goal No. 6 Clean Water and Sanitation. Sustainability Goal No. 6 is described this way:
"Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene."

"Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. Drought in specific afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition." (UN Sustainability Development Goals, Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all).
The linkages between epidemics and access to water is now becoming painfully and tragically clear.  As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads to states with challenges for providing access to clean water, the ability of states to protect their people from disease can be imoeded by an inability to assure access to clean water, and by the challenge of dealing with sewage.  Where contamination is an issue both access ot clean water and proper management fo sewage ina  sustainable way  can increase national risk of containing pabdemic.

This is now worrying a number of states. Recent reporting by Inter-Press Service in Cuba, Prevención del coronavirus choca con crisis del agua en Cuba (29 March 2020) provided a contemporary window on the issues.
“Me dicen que hay que lavarse las manos con agua y jabón abundantes, mantener limpia la meseta de la cocina, lavar bien todos los alimentos y la ropa en cuanto regresamos de la calle… Pero el agua no me alcanza”, se lamenta una vecina de La Habana Vieja, entre los municipios más afectados por la sequía. (Ibid.) ("They tell me that I have to wash my hands with water and a lot of soap, to maintain kitchen counters clean, to wash carefully food and our cloths when we return from the street. . . But I do not have enough water for these tasks," lanented a resident of Habana Vieja, among the neighborhoods most affected by lack of water")

 The reporting (in the original Spanish) follows.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shasha Li: Commentary on "Binwen Xing (Jilin University School of Law): 'Can meeting of People’s Congress be held in the form of online video?'" 邢斌文:人大会议能否以网络视频的形式召开?

Over the course of the last several years, Chinese scholars have been engaging in a very interesting discussion about the way that constitutional sensitivities to human rights affects Chinese law and practice in a number f areas. The conversation intensified after 2004 when the State Constitution was amended to include a third paragraph in its Article 33 that provides: "The State respects and preserves human rights."

This year I have the great privilege of hosting a marvelous visiting scholar from China, Shasha Li. Professor Li is an Associate Professor of Law School of Dongbei University of Finance and Economics. She obtained her Bachelor of Law from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, her Master of Law at Nankai University; ad her Doctor of Law at Jilin University. Professor Li may be contacted at fishsuncat [AT] 126.com.

I have prevailed on Professor Li to offer readers in English a glimpse at some of the rich discussion among academics who are considering the application of principles of human rights with Chinese characteristics and compatible with the Chinese political and normative system. Earlier Commentary may be accessed HERE, and HERE.

For her next  commentary, Professor Li has chosen the essay, "Binwen Xing (Jilin University School of Law): 'Can meeting of People’s Congress be held in the form of online video?'" The essay suggests the Chinese context of a global challenge.  That challenge touches on the default rules for determining the way in which we as a society can act collectively in ways that are authoritative. This becomes a significant issue where the core premise of collective action is based on the ideal of physicality, that is of the physical presence of representatives or other governance power wielding individuals at a place designated in accordance with rules whose collective actions thereby acquire a binding character by operation of law.  That, in essence is the old old definition of congress, and of the way in which public and private power have been manifested in economic, political, societal, and religious communities.
The Commentary, as well as the underlying article, make for interesting reading. The article considers within the broad parameters of the fundamental challenge outlined above, the legality of necessary changes to the way that the National People's Congress meets.  These changes, requiring much more remote participation was made necessary by the government's own restrictions on meetings imposed to meet the challenge of COVID-19 in China.

There is a substantial relevance to issue that are arising now in the U.S. Both Congress and business corporations are currently facing similar issues.  In that context, the legality of online or remote participation meetings becomes much more relevant. With respect to the meetings of Congress, passage of the CARE Act, meant to pump several billion dollars into the economy and support COVID-19 programs, was potentially jeopardized when a member of the House of Representatives challenged the legality of voting for the measure where a quorum of Representatives were not present in the Chamber of the House. 
Friday began on a note of chaotic uncertainty in the House, where the threat of a procedural objection from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) had forced more than 200 lawmakers to return to Washington. These lawmakers traveled by plane and car, some coming from places like New York where people are supposed to quarantine after leaving. Leaders had hoped to pass the massive legislation by “unanimous consent” or by “voice vote” with just a few members present, so that lawmakers scattered to their states wouldn’t have to return to the tight quarters of the Capitol in the midst of a pandemic. But Massie, who opposes the legislation because it adds to the deficit, was prepared to insist on a quorum — or majority of the House — which is specified in the Constitution but rarely enforced. Massie’s move drew bitter complaints from lawmakers of both parties and from Trump, who derided him over Twitter as a “grandstander” who should be tossed out of the Republican Party. (Trump signs $2 trillion coronavirus bill into law as companies and households brace for more economic pain)
With respect to corporate law, several states have had to change the law respecting shareholder annual meetings, either by executive order pursuant to a statutory grant of authority (Executive Order No. 202.8, available here), or by legislation (New Jersey, available here) to permit (but not mandate) virtual only shareholder meetings.  Expect much more in this respect n both the U.S. and China in the coming months. "California permits virtual meetings provided that prior consent from shareholders is obtained.  Still other states, such as Georgia, do not currently permit meetings to be held virtually, with or without an in-person meeting" (here).  See also the SEC Coronavirus Guidance.

Professor Li's English language Commentary follows below along with the original article (Chinese language only; English language Abstract).

Text of the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act” (HR 748)

In very quick action, the political branches have passed and the President has signed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act” (HR 748S. 3548).  
President Trump on Friday signed a massive $2 trillion emergency spending bill into law, promising to deliver a tidal wave of cash to individual Americans, businesses and health care facilities all reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. His signature came just hours after the House of Representatives passed the massive package by an overwhelming voice vote, and less than 48 hours after it received unanimous approval from the Senate. * * * But tensions between the White House and Congress over how the law will be implemented became immediately apparent. In a signing statement, Trump wrote that he would not permit a new inspector general to issue certain reports to Congress “without presidential supervision.” Democrats insisted on the creation of the new inspector general in order to make sure the White House didn’t improperly disburse taxpayer money. (Trump signs $2 trillion coronavirus bill into law as companies and households brace for more economic pain)
The CARES Act is several hundred pages long; it is a miracle that the hundreds of members of Congress were able to read through the provisions carefully and deliberate.  But then this is not that type of bill and Congress has now become accustomed to passing law  of this sort, leaving to others the task of careful read through of the bill in its entirely. That suggests a longer discussion about the state of the exercise of political power in the United States, but let us leave that for another day. 

Fidelity to the highest ideals of our Republic, however, might suggest the utility of making widely available the actual text of the CARES Act for those of the electorate still attached to the principle that the electorate serves an important accountability role for its representatives.  In addition, close reading of provisions of particular interest to specific constituencies might clarify  many of the provisions that have been reduced to talking points and summarized by the press and political officials.  

For those who find value in summaries, I have included below a perfectly reasonable summary provided by the Daily Mail (and yes conscious irony in the choice).   


Friday, March 27, 2020

Chinese Policy Moves Forward in the Shadow of COVID-19 Analysis of 习近平主持中央政治局会议 分析国内外新冠肺炎疫情防控和经济运行形势 研究部署进一步统筹推进疫情防控和经济社会发展工作等 [Xi Jinping presides over the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee to analyze the domestic and foreign new COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control and economic operation situation]

For those following the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic especially in leading states, it might be useful to consider the report of the 27 March Meeting of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.  

The Politburo Report was remarkably candid for reports of this type. It is worth quite careful study.

The Report (in the original Chinese--习近平主持中央政治局会议 分析国内外新冠肺炎疫情防控和经济运行形势 研究部署进一步统筹推进疫情防控和经济社会发展工作等) as reported by Xinhua News Agency, and in a crude English translation ("Xi Jinping presides over the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee to analyze the domestic and foreign new COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control and economic operation situation"), follows. 

The text of the Report is preceded by my summary of the 10 most significant areas of policy covered in the Report and what it may signal for Chinese policy in the coming half year. 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Dueling COVID-19 Banjos: The United States and China Fiddle With Narrative While the Pandemic Burns

(Pix Credit: HERE)

It appears that, even in the midst of substantial human suffering, there is always time for propaganda and propaganda wars.  The extraordinary narcissism of nations, taxed almost to the limits of their capacity to respond to the pandemic, devoting substantial resources to the spinning of propaganda with the objective of producing narratives of their respective greater glory, has now become an essential feature of the battles that later generations will come to understand as the COVID-19 wars. 

Thus it is that one finds oneself assaulted by the simultaneous self aggrandizing and heroic efforts of three leading political authorities to control the narrative of COVID-19 origin stories (discussed earlier here). At the same time--and as the complicit, pandering, and enabling media institutions suggest--these heroic efforts extend to the role of each of these states as the leading global force for the defeat of the pandemic.  The stakes are high, at least as measured by the lusts of the propaganda ministries of these states. The state that can claim the leading role in the glorious defeat of the plague believes that it can, at the same time, claim that the defeat reveals some sort of divine sign of the "worthiness" of the political apparatus and normative structures of the "victorious" state. The stage on which these performances for mass consumption are undertaken  reflect the logic of the institutional apparatus of each of these states.

Even to state these suppositions, the "rules" of the "game" that these states now indulge is to suggest the underlying buffoonery at the heart of these antics--but when coupled with the real consequences of the pandemic is assumes a much more macabre shading. Some brief reflections on this theme follow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Morality and COVID-19: Abortion in the Shadows of Coronavirus and its Challenge for Moral Stances

 The issue of morality tends to be overlooked in the shadow of COVID-19 as people necessarily focus on the urgent issues of preventing infection, treating the sick, and finding a cure, while protecting the social order and economic well being of society.  And yet it would be a mistake to detach issues of morality from the way that society confronts the challenge of COVID-19.  More importantly, there is a necessary moral element when, in the shadow of the COVID-19, political and other actors seek to advance objectives that are not directly related to the fight against COVID-19.  

This post focuses on the way that morality, and moral thinking, becomes a necessary element in the way that it may be necessary element of the accountability of our institutional and political leaders.   The illustrative case centers on abortion regulation in the shadow of COVID-19.

Automated Law and COVID-19: Data Driven Measures With National Characteristics In China and Israel and the Future of the Law-Governance Complex

Pix Credit HERE
It should come as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic would generate responses by states, entities and other actors with governance (and self-governance) authority.  Such responses, in turn, provide a window about the state of the mechanics of governance among these communities.  More specifically, it also provides a window on the evolving alignments between the command functions of law and the implementation functions of data driven governance. 

Pix Credit here
We have already considered the character of that relationship (and its alignments) in the case of Taiwan (Data Driven Management of COVID-19: The Case of Taiwan).  This post briefly describes some of these alignments (with national characteristics) of other states, with particular focus on China and Israel, as well as the way in which COVID-19 behavior standards enforcement furthers the development of data driven governance measures in each state. Brief consideration of data driven COVID-19 related measures are reported for Spain, South Korea, Singapore, India, Poland, U.K., Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Iran, and Russia.

For those interested in the official discourse at the international level, the WHO site, Country & Technical Guidance - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), might be of some interest.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Origin Stories and COVID-19: The Value of Stories of the Lab Created Origins of COVID-19

Origin stories (here, here, here, and here) have always been important in the organization and disciplining of human society.  In many cases they serve to construct and differentiate one community form another.  They also tend to embed the core founding ideological premises that define a society as autonomous and distinguishable from another.  In periods of great convergence--which was the essential marker of globalization in its first phase (1945-2016)--such origin stories diminish in importance as a border of autonomy and serve more as a distinguishing element of "voice" by a community participating in the greater communities of peoples all engaged in the development of common positions and consensus. 

Conversely, where fracture becomes a political or cultural ideal, origin stories become a critical element in enhancing detachment.  That detachment is inherent in a political project that is grounded on enhancing the identity between communal autonomy (peoplehood) and the erection of borders. This is the positive and normative objective of origin stories. These are almost always bound up in stories of the creation of the world--with world understood as the space within which a self referencing community comes to know itself and its place within the space allotted to it. 

As important, origin stories might also serve as part of a moral project,   or they serve to develop not just the identity of the community (as the "other" in a world of communities) but to situate that "otherness" within a spectrum of moral values in which the community itself is identified with the incarnation of the"good" the goodness of which can be measured against the incarnation of its opposite. The remnants of post Temple Jewish communities as the bad end of the moral spectrum in which the community of Christians occupied the idealized space of the good at the time both were competing around the Mediterranean for control of the narrative of the "true" post-Temple Jewish faith, is an excellent example.

Origin stories of both types continue to serve politics in the 21st century (though the stakes are far more pathetic and they tend to resemble the court intrigues of Ming era eunuch politics, or those of the Ancien Regime aristocratic court). Especially potent are those origin stories that serve a moral purpose--that is that reinforce the notion of the "goodness" of a community measured against the "evil" of another. It appears that the officials who occupy middling positions within the self reflexive bureaucracies of powerful states appear unable to resist the temptation to use origin stories--especially origin stories with a moral element--in the hurley burley of political competition in the middle of a global crisis.

The recent distraction, coming in equal measure form Beijing and Washington, and fanned by the hangers on (academic, press, and others) who seek personal advantage through the deployment of these cultural tropes irrespective of the greater damage they may do to their respective governments and without a care for the way they betray the fundamental political principles of their respective systems, have taken up a certain substantial amount of time from the primary task of meeting the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I do not refer to the childish diversion of the origins name of the disease (here, here, and here) with respect to which I will waste no more space than this.  Rather I speak to the much more potent, and derivative, battle that followed the conflict over "names" and evolving as if taken from the text of a third rate novella, of the assertion that COVID-19  was manufactured either in a Chinese or a US lab, and from there released onto the world (here, here, here, and here, but see here).  Here one has a powerful example of a morally driven origin story, the object of which is to buttress the unstated but underlying notion that two distinct communities exist, and that in nice Manichean style, one represents (and defines the "good" and the other--not so much. Here one references the origins of COVID-19 as a metaphor for the moral condition of the two societies.

That battle and its political ramifications (for geo-politics, for the control of the narrative of the pandemic, for the use of the pandemic as affirmation of political or cultural legitimacy, etc. e.g., herehere) if fairly uninteresting, except for those in the business of managing story lines for specific objectives.  But their is neither subtlety nor deep value in that exercise--except among technicians.  It is not for nothing, then, that the Press and social media, apparently with little other news to report, has been cultivating this tempest in a teapot in a sort of ironic complicity with the propaganda departments of the combatants.

This post, instead considers an eddy in these politics that ought to be of more interest and greater value.  I refer the extraordinary efforts, by the American press to manufacture a rift within the Chinese administrator class respecting either the value of pressing the "US labs created COVID-19" line or its validity. As reported by Bloomberg:
An unusual public spat between two top Chinese diplomats points to an internal split in Beijing over how to handle rising tensions with a combative U.S. president. The differences spilled into public view Monday after China’s ambassador to the U.S. reaffirmed his opposition to promoting theories that the virus that causes Covid-19 originated in an American military lab. Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories, even though a foreign ministry spokesman has repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter in recent weeks. (Spat Between China Diplomats Signals Internal Split Over Trump)
What makes this story interesting--at least from the context of the West where it is getting some play--centers on the way in which an origin story can be used to invert the trajectory of morality.  What is attempted here is to manufacture conflict within the story-telling community, and then to turn that into a story of the origin of weakness in the storytelling country.   That is, in this case, the origin story coming from certain sectors of the Chinese bureaucracy (e.g., that the US produced and released COVD-19 (e.g., here))  because it is publicly contested either evidences a rift within the ruling collective (e.g., here) or suggests contention over the forms and manifestation of foreign policy (here) that evidences the weakness of the ruling collective and immorality of the story.

And yet it is not entirely clear that their either is a rift, or that the disagreement is merely a quite elegant effort to manage response among the masses int he US. The origin story in China remains as vibrant as ever for the consumption of Chinese mass opinion.  But that is its function as a moral value origin story. On the other hand, its utility when projected toward the object of constructed evil is more problematic.  Thus, the decision for the Chinese Ambassador to the US to grant an interview, and to grant it to Axios ("we’ve engineered Axios around a simple proposition — deliver the clearest, smartest, most efficient and trustworthy experience for audience and advertisers alike"), takes on a quite distinct hue.
In a rare interview, China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, told "Axios on HBO" that he stands by his belief that it's "crazy" to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the United States. Why it matters: Cui called this exact conspiracy theory "crazy" more than a month ago on CBS' "Face the Nation." But that was before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, began publicly promoting the conspiracy. (Top Chinese official disowns U.S. military lab coronavirus conspiracy)
 But you decide for yourselves. . . . and not by reading the manipulative "highlights" version of the encounter. The entire CBS-Axios interview may be accessed here .

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Dogs and COVID-19: An Emerging Tragedy Born of Fear?

The coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily focused on its transmission, strategies for its containment, strategies for its eventual eradication, and the human tragedy generated during its course. Those tragedies center on human suffering and death for those who have fallen victim to the disease along with their loved ones, as well as the economic, social, and economic repercussions of a pandemic the magnitude of which was underestimated.

But solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris (Marlowe, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (1604) (misery loves company; Mephistopheles' answer to Fautus, who asks why Satan seeks to enlarge his kingdom with sinners)).

Over the last several months there have been investigations about the transmission of COVID-19 from humans to dogs. . . . and of course, from dogs back to humans. 

This mirrors the earlier debate, unresolved, about the origins of COVD-19 in some sort of wild animal--with the usual focus on bats. (Bats are not to blame for coronavirus. Humans are ("Reclusive, nocturnal, numerous -- bats are a possible source of the coronavirus. Yet some scientists concur they are not to blame for the transfer of the disease that's changing daily life -- humans are. Zoologists and disease experts have told CNN that changes to human behavior -- the destruction of natural habitats, coupled with the huge number of fast-moving people now on Earth -- has enabled diseases that were once locked away in nature to cross into people fast.")).

The possibility of human infection of dogs, however, has created a space for tragedy. Having gone to the trouble to infect dogs, humans now appear potentially ready to abandon the dogs they have infected.--and those who might become infected. This has caused some worry among those who worry about such things.  In the process it has given rise to a fear that people will abandon dogs (and perhaps cats as well). This will create the potential for an additional challenge to public authorities at precisely the moment when public bodies may be least capable of effectively responding. 

Authorities face multiple issues: (1) can dogs (or cats) be infected with COVID-19?; (2) can they get sick?; (3) can they pass COVID-19 back to humans?; (4) what sort of contact is necessary to pass COVID-19 back to humans?; (5) can animals pass COVID-19 to each other (thus requiring containment and segregation in multiple dog households?; (6) should high risk humans dispose of their dogs?; (7) ought infected dogs to be euthanized even if they are otherwise healthy and loving and of no other threat to humans as a mitigation measure?; (8) to what extent are mitigation and containment strategies that cause pain or harm to dogs in the circumstances of their relation COVID-19 in breach of core premises of human dignity applied to the space within which individuals engage; and (9) how do animals cruelty laws (and the human norms and principles on which they are grounded) implicated where decisions are made to euthanize or abandon dogs out of fear of COVID-19?  

These questions have yet to be fully considered.  The possibility of cruelty on a large scale cannot be ignored--it is as great as the capacity of human communities to allow fear to excuse inhumane actions (for which regret after the fact provides small comfort).  Some of the issues, confusions,  and the limited state of knowledge are nicely summarized in recent reporting--Second dog tests positive for coronavirus as owners warned not to abandon pets (Market Watch 21 March 2020)--portions of which are reproduced below .

Friday, March 20, 2020

今日晚间,国家监委调查组发布关于群众反映的涉及李文亮医生有关情况调查的通报。[Tonight, the investigation team of the State Supervision Commission released a report on the investigation of the situation involving Dr. Li Wenliang, which was reported by the masses.]

At the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, in the Chinese city of Wuhan, an important site of pandemic origin, Dr. Li Wenliang, who himself died of complications from COVID-19, became the center of a substantial controversy over the way the authorities responded to his efforts.

The controversy was significant enough that the Chinese central authorities designated a team from the State Supervision Commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr. Li's treatment, and ultimately, his death.  The State Supervision Commission has recently released its report, the text of which has been made available.  Perhaps of greatest interest extracted frm the report is tis:
Li Wenliang forwarded and released related information, subjectively wanted to remind classmates and colleagues to pay attention to precautions. After a large amount of information was forwarded, it aroused social attention. Objectively, it played a role in promoting attention to the epidemic in various aspects and strengthening prevention and control. On March 4, 2020, the National Health Commission and other departments issued a decision to commend advanced individuals in the prevention and control of the new crown pneumonia epidemic in the national health system. Dr. Li Wenliang is one of them. [李文亮转发、发布相关信息,主观上是想提醒同学、同事注意防范,信息被大量转发后引发社会关注,客观上对各方面重视疫情、加强防控起到了推动作用。2020年3月4日,国家卫健委等部门印发决定,表彰全国卫生健康系统新冠肺炎疫情防控工作先进个人,李文亮医生是其中之一,这正是对李文亮医生工作的肯定和表彰。]

Thursday, March 19, 2020

POSTPONED to 17 APRIL 2020--Coronavirus and International Affairs Roundtable

It is with mixed feelings that the organizers of the Roundtable Conference: Coronavirus and International Affairs, originally scheduled for 20 March 2020 to be held at Pennsylvania State University, must announce that the Roundtable Conference will be POSTPONED to FRIDAY 17 APRIL 2020 and re-organized in a new format as a wholly online event.

Public health concerns, and the rapidly evolving situation in the United States now makes any other decision reckless. In making this decision, we were motivated primarily by concerns for the health and safety of our participants, but also of our audience. Physical meetings have been substantially curtailed and those in the university have been effectively forbidden in the near term. The organizers seek to comply with all measures that further the objectives of safety and of the efforts to minimize the spread of the disease.

We delayed because we were reluctant to cancel the event in the face of the overwhelming health and safety concerns, and sought to find a way to quickly transform the event from one with a potentially substantial physical presence to one that could be held wholly online. We were unsuccessful given the time constraints we faced. Moreover, we were reluctant to seek to burden the university with these issues out of a concern that its resources are now given, and quite correctly, to our teaching and administrative responsibilities. I also became clear that online alternatives will take some time to arrange and to publicize.

At the same time, the possibility of pursuing an online alternative militated against cancellation and convinced us that we would do more good postponing and re-shaping rather than canceling the event. Indeed, that re-scheduling and transformation if the event could itself provide additional topics for discussion about the world of academic discourse and knowledge production within and among universities in the post-COVID-19 world. Thus, the pandemic itself suggests both the importance of the topic, and the ways that it is changing the way that organized human activity is being transformed. In that context working hard to change the format of the event to suit the times might itself serve as one of the more important elements of the Conference Roundtable.

We appreciate the support of those interested in this event. We are grateful for your patience and flexibility. Over the next week we will distribute more information with specifics about the POSTPONED EVENT. We hope to be able to organize the postponed event with some form of interactive participatory elements within the parameters and limitations of an online event, one that may not be simulcast.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR 17 APRIL 2020. If possible we will simulcast from 9.30 am (U.S. East Coast Time) through 12.30 PM. If not were will hold the event remotely at that time and then immediately post the recording line. We hope as well to be able to gather your questions, inputs, statements and opinions and share them during the course of the Event. The website for the Conference Roundtable remains unchanged: https://www.thecpe.org/projects/education-projects/roundtable-coronavirus-and-international-affairs/.

Stay tuned!

Final Version of HR 6201 as Signed by President Trump: "Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020"

In Multiplici miraculo Deus gloriosum--The Text of HR 6201, “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” in the Wake of the Declaration of National Emergency we  posted the draft text of the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020."  Since then the Senate has passed and the President has signed  a final version of the Act.
"Trump's support for the House measure cleared the way for a broad, bipartisan vote in the House at the end of last week. The House later approved a set of changes to the legislation on Monday, clearing the path for the Senate to consider it, which scaled back their efforts to offer millions of Americans paid sick and family leave. The revised legislation would still provide many workers with up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they are being tested or treated for coronavirus or have been diagnosed with it. Also eligible would be those who have been told by a doctor or government official to stay home because of exposure or symptoms. Under the revised bill, however, those payments would be capped at $511 a day, roughly what someone making $133,000 earns annually. The original measure called for workers to receive their full pay but limited federal reimbursement to employers to that amount.Workers with family members affected by coronavirus and those whose children's schools have closed would still receive up to two-thirds of their pay, though that benefit would now be limited to $200 a day." (President Trump signs 'Families First Coronavirus Response Act' into law)

The enrolled version of the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020" follows below for those who might find it difficult to access online. Otherwise the text may be accessed here.  PDF version available HERE. In addition, Squire Patton Boggs has produced a useful summary (available HERE) and also below.

Additional aid to the private sector is also forthcoming, though it may be more contentious.  Stay tuned.  See, "Republicans get ready to unveil Senate's $1 trillion coronavirus bailout and start talks with Democrats as Chuck Schumer warns he wants guarantees that firms saved by government avoid layoffs and keep paying salaries," Daily Mail 19 March 2020.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mehr News Agency Interview: "COVID-19 revealing little parts of fundamental shifting of global ordering: Prof. Larry Backer"

It was my great honor to have been asked by Payman Yazdani for an opinion essay that sought to reflect on the question: what was the the most significant development in international arena during the last 12 months? The interview with Mr. Yazdani has just been published by the Mehr News Agency as "COVID-19 revealing little parts of fundamental shifting of global ordering." 

 It may be accessed by clicking on the link above and is set out below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pavel Vidal: "Analysis: Coronavirus to Deliver a Blow to Cuban Tourism"

I have written about the effects of COVID-19 on Cuba.  The effects, of course,  has been centered on one of the crown jewels of Cuban economic planning, the tourism sector.  It was tourists (from Italy) that brought COVID-19 to Cuba with them; and it was travel to Italy that brought introduced an indigenous element of COVID-19 transmission (COVID-19 in Cuba: The Current State of Affairs).

I am delighted to pass along the insightful analysis of Pavel Vidal who delves more deeply into the connection between the global course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Cuban tourist sector.  The issue is particularly acute because of the centrality of tourism to Cuban economic planning. The essay is well worth reading not merely for its implications for Cuba.  Rather, the analysis is useful as a template for the hard choices that many states will have to make in the middle and lower reaches of  global production chains.  The analysis suggests hardship--Cuba projects well above its weight despite its adherence to Soviet style central planning models.  For states that are in a more preliminary (and precarious) state of development the prognosis may be more negative. 

Professor Vidal specializes in macroeconomics and monetary policy. Since 2012 he lives in Colombia and works as a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. He served as a visiting researcher at Harvard University, Columbia University, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and the Institute for Developing Economies (Japan External Trade Organization). He has been a consultant to the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, UNDP and Banco de la República de Colombia. He received training from many central banks in Latin America (1999-2006). One of his expertise is the time series econometric models to develop forecasts and estimate economic indexes. He was professor of the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana (2006-2012) and worked in the Monetary Policy Division of the Central Bank of Cuba (1999-2006). 

The essay follows.It first appeared in  Cuba Standard Monthly

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Convergence of Economics, Politics, and Health as Globalization Moves into its New Era: 16 March 2020 G7 Leader's Statement

By now it has become clear that  COVID-19 is not another simple epidemic with respect to which health professionals occupy a central space.  Instead, and for reasons that will be teased out over the course of the next several months, COVID-19 has metastasized from a crisis of the health establishments, to one that, in its own way, has begun to copy the more comprehensive scope of the 2007 economic collapse. 

To speak to COVIS-19 as a mere health crisis no longer really reflects the reality of the crisis.  It has become, in its own way, a crisis of globalization.  More than the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, or the economic collapse of 2006, the 2020 COVID-19 epidemic will prove to be the space within which the strength of globalization, and of its institutions--meticulously developed over the last seventy years--will be tested.  

What is becoming clear, through the fog of policy and panic--as well as of the herd instinct that characterizes and diminishes value the administrative cultures on which human society now relies for its collective protection--what is becoming clear, is that COVID-19 is quickly becoming a space for the transformations of social, political, and economic space will occur.  Those transformations might not have been inevitable.  And yet that inevitability may well be built into the bones of the cultures of administration that have now come to characterize the apparatus of both public and private institutions.  Those cultures deepen as the basic premises of human organization--in Marxist-Leninist, liberal democratic, and theocratic systems--continue to align with respect to the ideal of the individual in the shadow of the state, and of the institution. 

None of this is a criticism of events or decisions.  How, effectively or reasonably, can one actually critique the inevitable?  One seeks ot understand it; one might regret the decisions made, now a generation or more ago, which made these trajectories unavoidable.  What is useful now is the extraction of the premises and habist of the new inevtable so that one can have a better sense of the way in which societies will manifest the arrangements within which order is maintained, resources allocated, and the individual embedded within insttituional frameworks. That is thw work that waits the end ogf the epidemic (in its current phase).

The G7 has provided us with hints about the trajectories for the movement forward.  The version, of course, is that of liberal democracy. The Marxist-Leninist and theocratic versions will be slightly different (with respect to language, cultural referent, and sources of authority, to be sure).  But they all point in the same direction.  

The G7 Leaders' Statement, distributed 16 March 2020 follows. It nicely conflates health, economic and political  policies, even as it seeks to manage the fundamental of globalization as the ordering framework within which crises like COVID-19 will be managed, and int he process society transformed.  To see into the future, then, one ought to quite carefully read the G7 statement.  Careful reading requires that one does not dismiss the Statement as propaganda, nor as sloganeering, and certainly not as bathos (though the temptation with respect to the last is almost overwhelming). Rather, the G7 Statement provides a sort of coded language of fear. Here one encounters fear: fear of instability, fear of a reversal of the trajectory of human progress, fear of the ability of institutions (including the state) to deliver a better life to its people in exchange for obedience and conformity, fear of anarchy (of order without a center), and fear of the reverse of a string center without order.

The conflation of the health of labor, and the development of productive forces, across global production chains, may appear to require the re-emergence of the state, not in and for itself, but as the institutional mechanism through which labor health is protected for the ultimate protection of global production chains (and thus, more indirectly, the welfare of labor whose welfare is a necessary predicate for the operation of the system as economics, as politics, and as culture. The "human tragedy" to which the G7 statement references, is not merely that of the loss of life--a bad enough consequence-, but rather its threat to the ways of life within which even the great powers now compete, that will be the most unsettling effect of this pandemic.