Monday, April 20, 2020

Eulogy: Dr. N has Passed Away

Today I learned that Dr. N died of COVID-19 complications in a nursing home in Canton. He was a Persian immigrant, a cardiologist who drove early morning carpool a couple times per week when I was in kindergarten and first grade (which I did twice with good benefit!). He would firmly correct me and the other kids, though seemingly I was the most frequent offender, “Not Mr. N., Doctor N!” He was married to a boisterous friend of my mother’s, who was famous with us for going barefoot in all environments in all months of the year, a memory which is surely exaggerated by the passage of time. They had three kids together, all of them older than my twin sister and me; I think all of them might have become doctors.

So Dr. N. died and I am melancholy because now I know somebody, but maybe it was a blessing because he spent the last years of his life mostly separated from the ones that he loved and who loved him. Instead of the seemingly marvelous Gandhi that he was in the days before dementia set in, he had become an unmanageable tyrant, which apparently Gandhi was, too, moving from institution to institution, including McLean, where the very much alive James Taylor and the late poet Robert Lowell and other Brahmins have spent time struggling with demons. 

I feel a million miles away. Starting to play the unhealthy game of: What if I get sick? What if my aged parents or other loved ones, whose funerals I have pledged (silently to myself) that I shall not miss, get taken away? Of course, it occurs to me that even if I was in New England, funerals might not take place for months. 

I am trapped here--almost no commercial planes in or out--in a country that has nearly doubled its death toll number for the city at the epicenter. ("The Chinese government has upped its official coronavirus death toll to 4,632 -- an increase of nearly 40 percent.") The Trump Administration is ratcheting up the rhetoric about China, with Pompeo focused on 5G from Huawei and the President off-message, but pounding China as a foe. On March 4, I made a decision to return, which I do not yet regret, but it was certainly based on incomplete information. Nevertheless, China's "fake numbers" does seem to be the result of media bias. By mid-February, China had flattened its curve.

I have watched the unfolding events here with horror and a growing amount of fear. "Harbin has had 26 new confirmed cases and 19 asymptomatic infections since April 9. Before that, the province had reported zero domestic infections for 29 consecutive days." Harbin, the capital of China's northeasternmost province, is 2070 miles away or roughly as far away as Chibougamu, Quebec, is from Miami, Florida, but it is relevant, because, like Guangzhou, it is a border city and the Chinese have tried mightily in the last few weeks to make the case that most new cases have stemmed from foreigners. They have rushed to gather the data that proves their point.

Readers of this blog know that there was a dragnet for Africans here in Guangzhou, which eventually attracted international media attention and the condemnation of legates from a variety of One Belt, One Road countries in the global South. The police force here has vowed to deport 'foreigners' who refuse to be quarantined amid rising xenophobia due to coronavirus. "Officials have also disclosed that 4,553 Africans, out of a black population of about the same figure, had undergone testing in Guangzhou since April 3." [my emphasis] (The Nation- a Nigerian publication)*

On a brighter note, a black British acquaintance of mine, whose wife is from a nation in Africa from which no reported imported cases came, was thrown into quarantine for only three days and then released, rather bafflingly. I surmise there was a response from Beijing to the local government's draconian treatment of blacks--no matter where they are from. However, the blaming of foreigners for the spread of this disease seems to be on the rise, perhaps as a reaction to the problematic response of my own government, where top officials call it the Wuhan or China virus. This may just be my perception from news articles and endless reports from foreign friends and acquaintances. 

Yesterday, another acquaintance reported that not only was he in quarantine because a sick person had visited the restaurant where he is a proprietor, but all four restaurants that are frequented by foreigners on that street have been shut down by the government. One of the people who went to one of those restaurants is from Boston and he was taken away from his Chinese girlfriend and her daughter after contact tracing led to his door. He is angry, because they scammed him into extra blood tests and a CT scan. "Seems it was optional." He is also frustrated because he says, "I was taken out of my house like a criminal." 

*I think that these numbers are underestimates; there are many more Africans here than that, quite a few without proper paperwork reportedly, and there are large numbers of "blacks" (of African and Caribbean origin) who are here from the US, UK, and other nations. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"Sorry Africa"

for Tony Bird

It has been a long, long time since I have seen Tony Bird, who visited the stage of Phillips Exeter Academy when I was a student there, but his lyricism haunts to me today, as President Donald Trump withdraws the United States from funding the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The widespread evictions and mistreatment of African migrants in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has caused a serious rupture in China-Africa relations. Chinese ambassadors across Africa have been called into various foreign ministries to explain why so many of their nationals in Guangzhou have been visibly mistreated by authorities and rendered homeless by the evictions from their homes and hotels." (The China Africa Project) You may want to have a listen to the following if you want to see a constructive resolution to this problem.

Meanwhile, in the United States, racism against people of Chinese origin and, based on appearance, against all East Asian people, is on full display. Historically, black, brown, and red communities in the United States have had negative saving rates (i.e., large amounts of credit card debt) and virtually no wealth, outside of often second-rate lands held in trust by the tribes and Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. This is a problem that Dr. Fauci and others have been clear can no longer be ignored or shoved under the rug.

The strategic and humanitarian blunder of this temporary, and possibly long-term, denial of funding to the World Health Organization by the United States government will crush the developing world, destroying its chances of procuring needed supplies...unless China, in its push for soft power in the global South (or because it is a humanitarian regime?), steps in. Trump has invited that solution, which will virtually eliminate the United States reputation as a force for good in the world.

The WHO is certainly not beyond reproach, but how will the world get Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, etc. test kits and personal protective equipment without the full-funding and assistance of the WHO? It will be a patchwork response like we have seen in the United States, because of the failure of the disorganized federal government led by a heartless, merciless egomaniac. The small states, that don't get to band together with CA, OR, and WA, such as Idaho and Burkina Faso, may well go without or see poorly implemented "back-to-work" efforts that lead to more deaths.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Fwd: The boldest piece of legislation ever written in modern history:

From: Bernie Sanders <>
Date: Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 7:07 AM
Subject: The boldest piece of legislation ever written in modern history:

Our country is now facing its worst crisis in modern history.

Alexander -
Our country is now facing its worst crisis in modern history. We are in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that could lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans and infect millions of others, and we are entering an economic downturn that could be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Last week, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment. This week that number doubled to 6.6 million claims — ten times higher than any other week on record. It is certain that well over 10 million people have lost their jobs — more than in the Wall Street crash of 2008.
In this unprecedented moment in modern American history, it is imperative that we respond in an unprecedented way. And that means that Congress must pass, in the very near future, the boldest piece of legislation ever written in modern history.
There are many, many issues that must be addressed in our response to this pandemic, and working together, we will make sure they are addressed.
1. Addressing the Employment Crisis and Providing Immediate Financial Relief
There is little doubt in my mind that we are facing an economic crisis that could be even worse than the Great Depression. The St. Louis Federal Reserve has projected that 47 million more people may become unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32 percent. In my view, we must make sure that every worker in America continues to receive their paycheck during this crisis and we must provide immediate financial relief to everyone in this country.
An important precedent for that approach was taken in the recent stimulus package in which grants were provided to the airlines for the sole purpose of maintaining the paychecks and benefits of some 2 million workers in that industry through September 30. We must expand that program to cover every worker in America and we must make it retroactive to the beginning of this crisis. This is not a radical idea. Other countries, such as the UK, Norway, Denmark, France, and others have all come up with similar approaches to sustain their economy and prevent workers from losing their jobs.
Our primary goal during this crisis must be to prevent the disintegration of the American economy. It will be much easier and less expensive to prevent the collapse of the economy than trying to put it back together after it collapses.
To do this, we must also begin monthly payments of $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in our country, and guarantee paid family leave throughout this crisis so that people who are sick do not face the choice of infecting others or losing their job.
2. We Must Guarantee Health Care to All
Let's be clear: we were facing a catastrophic health care crisis before the pandemic, and now that crisis has become much, much worse. Already, 87 million people are uninsured or underinsured. Layoffs will mean tens of millions of people more will lose their current insurance — which will result in countless deaths and bankruptcies. Already in the last two weeks, an estimated 3.5 million people have lost their employer-sponsored insurance.
And as the pandemic grows, we are seeing more and more reports of people who have delayed treatment due to concerns about cost. In this pandemic, uninsurance will lead to deaths and more COVID-19 transmissions.
Therefore, during this crisis, Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for the uninsured and the underinsured. No one in America who is sick, regardless of immigration status, should be afraid to seek the medical treatment they need during this national pandemic. Let me be clear: I am not proposing that we pass Medicare for All in this moment. That fight continues into the future. But, for the moment, we must act boldly to make sure everyone can get the health care they need in the coming months.
3. Use the Defense Production Act to Produce the Equipment and Testing We Need
Unbelievably, in the United States right now, doctors and nurses are unnecessarily putting their lives on the line treating people suffering from the coronavirus because they lack personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and surgical gowns. The CDC has directed health professionals to use homemade gear like bandanas or scarves and some workers at the VA are being told to re-use one surgical mask for a week at a time. HHS estimated that our country needs 3.5 billion masks in response to this crisis.
President Trump has utilized the Defense Production Act thousands of times for the military and for enforcement of his immigration policies, yet he has resisted using its power to save lives during the pandemic. That is unacceptable. We must immediately and forcefully use the Defense Production Act to direct the production of all of the personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies needed.
We must also utilize this power to produce antibody tests so we can begin figuring out who has already contracted the virus and has developed some immunity to COVID-19.
In addition, OSHA must adopt a strong emergency standard to protect health care workers, patients, and the public during this crisis. We must crack down aggressively on price gougers and hoarders, and use any means necessary to secure supplies.
4. Make Sure No One Goes Hungry
Even before this crisis hit, one in every seven kids in America was going hungry and nearly 5.5 million seniors in our country struggled with hunger. Already in this crisis we see lines at food banks and growing concern that our most vulnerable communities and those recently unemployed may struggle to feed their families.
As communities face record levels of food insecurity, we must increase SNAP benefits, expand the WIC program for pregnant mothers, infants, and children, double funding for the Emergency Food Program (TEFAP) to ensure food banks have food to distribute, and expand Meals on Wheels and School Meals programs. When necessary, we must also develop new approaches to deliver food to vulnerable populations — including door-to-door drop offs.
5. Provide Emergency Aid to States and Cities
Even as state and local employees like police officers, firefighters and paramedics work on the front lines of this pandemic, states and cities that pay their salaries are facing enormous budgetary pressures.
Congress must provide $600 billion in direct fiscal aid to states and cities to ensure they have the personnel and funding necessary to respond to this crisis. In addition, the Federal Reserve must establish programs to provide direct fiscal support and budgetary relief to states and municipalities.
6. Suspend Monthly Payments
Even before this crisis, half of the people in our country were living paycheck to paycheck. In America today, over 18 million families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Now, with growing unemployment, families are facing financial ruin if we do not act quickly and boldly.
That's why we must suspend monthly expenses like rent, mortgages, medical debt and consumer debt collection for 4 months. We must cancel all student loan payments for the duration of this crisis, and place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs.
Brothers and sisters: In this unprecedented moment in our history it is easy to feel like we are alone, and that everyone must fend for themselves. But that would be a mistake and a terrible tragedy. Now, more than any other moment in our lives, we must remember that we are all in this together — that when one of us gets sick, many more may get sick. And when my neighbor loses their job, I may lose my job as well.
Further, we cannot wait until our economy collapses to act. It will be far easier and less expensive to act now, in a very bold way, than to try to rebuild our country later.
If we work together and unite behind these basic principles of economic and health justice, I am confident that we will not only get through this unprecedented crisis together but that we will lay the groundwork for a better and more just America in the future.
In solidarity,
Bernie Sanders

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Sub-Saharan Africa Needs Your Help

Doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe are not going to hospital. They are on strike because they do not have the masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as the testing kits, that can adequately protect them. The nearly 15 million people of Zimbabwe are at risk, where . So is the rest of sub-Sahran Africa. Always the poorest and hardest hit place, I am asking you to contribute to the American Friends Service Committee to help, at a minimum, get the striking health workers of Zimbabwe back to work. (They are working with Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches, USA.)

Donate Today!

Over the last couple weeks, more than half of which was spent in solo quarantine, I have lost countless hours of sleep working with a network of Chinese-American expats and other well-intentioned expatriates to ship masks to the United States. One acquaintance has seen a large shipment arrive in LAX a few hours ago, but is uncertain what will happen next. While I have learned a lot, I feel an awful lot like a potential Mr. Blank:

Blank Industries is a real company, but it’s an ice-melt manufacturer in Hudson, Mass. In an interview, Andrew Blank, the founder, said he had upended his business to sell masks after hearing from a former Chinese supplier he had once hired to make a new kind of toothbrush. (Mr. Blank had invented it.) After the coronavirus hit, the supplier turned his dental-products plant into a mask factory. Mr. Blank told his 12 employees to stop selling rock salt and start selling masks.

Why was he charging $4.92 for each N95? “To be honest, I don’t even know what an N95 normally sells for,” he said.

I told him. “50 cents?” he repeated. His supplier was charging him $4.75. (His margin would cover shipping costs; he planned to take no profit.)
The eruption in demand for dwindling amounts of masks has resulted in a kind of global supply-chain bedlam.

The pace of news updates about masks alone has been dizzying. We learned on April 3, the FDA will allow the use of KN95 masks approved by China, an alternative to scarce N95 masks that have FDA approval. At the same time that we are suddenly opening the door to China-approved products, the President has gotten into a spat with our biggest trading partner and closest neighbor, Canada, saying that he will use the War Production Act to prohibit export of 3M masks to Latin America and Canada.

Both the Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whose spouse has been diagnosed) will do what they can to keep Canadians safe.

Meanwhile, the lack of a coordinated national response that should have been set in place a couple months ago led to Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY) blaming, on March 31, ventilator shortages on competition with FEMA and other large states. The fact that the President of the United States has allowed his inept and corrupt son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to run the White House effort is appalling. Even a Republican governor, albeit one who has been critical of Trump, has seen two shipments of supplies seized by the federal government and, reportedly, at least one order redirected to Spain by the Chinese government, even after money had been wired.

After his plane brought 1.2 million medical masks from China back to the United States, Thursday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he was glad to be part of the effort to fight the coronavirus.

The rich and famous have made things worse. Boston Red Sox owner and alleged prostitution solicitor Bob Kraft has donated only to Boston (and in a Benedict Arnold moment that will not live in infamy: to New York, home of the NY Yankees).

Mark Zuckerberg has donated primarily to the Bay Area, but he stands to gain more from prolonged social distancing than almost anybody else...if his tool can truly be used to connect and not divide.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders has continued his Presidential campaign with a clarion call to improve the social contract, but his campaign manager and Jeff Weaver seem to be pressing him to withdraw. Even the conservative Financial Times has demonstrated that the frailty of the social contract has been laid bare. Sanders raised over $2 million for coronavirus relief efforts. Meanwhile, Biden, focused only on his election, says the 2020 convention in Milwaukee may be 'virtual' and he will wear a mask in public amid COVID-19 outbreak. Sadly, Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to be gearing up for an endorsement of a man who spent the last several weeks in his basement, we can only hope for different reasons than Chris Cuomo.

"Somehow sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful Resolute Desk," Trump said, indicating he thought it would be uncomfortable wearing a mask as he met with "presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I don’t know, somehow I don’t see it for myself."

Friday, April 3, 2020

Help Send Zimbabwe's health workers back to work

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are staying safe in this COVID-19 pandemic. As you may have heard, doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe are on strike. They do not have protective gear, and they fear for themselves and their families. No one can blame them. They need personal protective equipment to go back to work. My colleagues on the ground are saying the situation is dire.

I am writing to ask if you can reach out to your networks requesting them to support Zimbabweans in their hour of need. Hospitals without health workers are a nightmare for a country. This is happening during the coronavirus pandemic. I know that people around the world are dealing with their emergency, but I wanted to check in with you to see if there is anything we can do to change this. Below is the link where you can donate. AFSC will host the fundraising and will do the procurement in Asia. Then, collaborate with WHO and other humanitarian agencies to airlift to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, and AFSC Zimbabwe will ensure transparency and distribution of the PPEs. Please read the concept at the links below.



Please share widely with your networks and let's send Zimbabwe 's health workers back to work so that they are prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Thank you so much for your support,

Pauline Muchina
American Friends Service Committee