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Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...


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Monday January 09, 2006

[It’s probably dumb to try and put a humorous spin on the abortion issue and the Alito hearings, but here goes anyway.] -- Eugene Linden

Pro-Life group says fire NASA chief

By Lamatty Hurstwhistle
Sentinel and Post Staff Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – At a hastily organized press conference, Dr. James Dobson, founder and president of the American Family Network, called for the firing of NASA administrator Digby Johnson because of the agency’s “consistent pattern of insinuating an anti-life agenda into its space missions.” Dobson said that his call was prompted when the space agency aborted the take off of the Space Shuttle Enterprise after the discovery of a leak in the vessel’s external fuel tank. “We watched for years while NASA deviously promoted a pro-abortion agenda,” said Dobson, “and it’s time we had an administrator who didn’t try to pollute outer space with his political views.” Dobson went on to say that thanks to NASA’s action, “we will never know what that mission might have accomplished.” When initially reached for comment, Johnson heatedly denied that the cancellation of last week’s mission had anything to do with a pro-abortion agenda. “We’re simply trying to protect the lives of astronauts and any suggestion otherwise is sheer lunacy.” Later, however, after consultations with White House officials, Johnson softened his remarks. “Every launch is precious,” said the somber former astronaut, and he vowed to pursue a full investigation into the circumstances that led to the cancellation of last week’s take off. The Republican leadership was quick to take up the issue. Breaking away from exercise hour to take a reporter’s questions at Eglin Federal Prison Camp in Florida, Rep. Tom Delay thundered into the receiver on his side of the glass partition in the visitor’s room: “Abortion in any form is an abomination!” Democratic response was muted at first, possibly because the leadership’s pollsters were attending a conference in Las Vegas. Senator Ted Kennedy’s office put out a statement which read in part, “It’s my firm belief that the captain of a space shuttle should have the right to make the choice to terminate a mission if he believes that a full-term countdown might threaten the safety of the crew.” “Typical,” sneered a senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “If Democrats had been in charge of expeditions in Queen Isabella’s day, Columbus would have turned back before he passed the Azores.” As the day wore on, speculation grew as to who might replace Johnson as NASA administrator should his public show of contrition fail to appease the White House. Among the names most frequently mentioned have been Phyllis Schlafly and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. “They have gold-plated, pro-life credentials,” gushed one Hill staffer, “and both have strong opinions on scientific matters.” Many observers viewed the new campaign as evidence of a new emboldened pro-life movement on the heels of the confirmation of Samuel Alito Jr. to the United States Supreme Court. Some bloggers, however, took a more cynical view. In a posting in the prominent liberal blog Talking Points Memo, Joshua Marshall suggested that Dobson might have chosen to push the issue to distract the media from newly surfaced emails in which the Christian right leader volunteered to be the mohel at a lavish bris organized by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Although still in its infancy, the campaign is already having reverberations beyond NASA. The Air Transport Association, the principal airline industry lobbying group, issued a statement promising a review on its policy on take offs and landings. A spokesman for the group noted, “Right now, everything’s up for grabs, but I promise that we’re going to look at this from the standpoint of whether it is justifiable to abort any take-offs at all.”

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Short Take

Relaxing COVID-19 Restrictions will Kill, not Save, the Economy


[This is a more developed version of the previous Short Take}

Those who want to relax mandates on self-isolation and social distancing to save the economy have got it exactly backwards. Reopen society too soon, and we risk destroying the economy as well as public order and our shaky democratic institutions. The reason comes down to two words: supply lines.

 Supply lines for necessities such as food are already under stress. Those going to grocery stories encounter random instances of empty shelves and vegetable bins. Smithfield Farms shut down a South Dakota plant that supplies roughly 4% of the pork in the nation after over 500 of its workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Other giant meat processors such as Tyson have also shut down plants for similar reasons. Farmers in the West are having trouble finding workers to harvest the crops now reaching maturity in the fields. And even if they manage to get the crops picked, farmers are out of luck if the truckers fail to show up, or the flow of packaging for their products get interrupted. 

Right now, these disruptions are episodic, but that should be concerning because we haven’t even seen the end of the first wave. What we have seen is that vital front-line workers such as nurses, doctors, EMT’s, and other first responders have had trouble finding protective equipment and maintaining morale. Some have staged walkouts over the dangerous conditions, and these are workers with a sense of mission.

By contrast, for most of the hourly-paid workers who keep supplies made, distributed, and sold, their work is a job that pays the bills. It would be appropriate if society recognized that they played a vital role, but mostly these workers encounter demanding bosses, monotony, and surly customers. If sick, they are not going to work – nor would we want them too. And they are not likely to risk their lives if going to work exposes them to contagion.

Disruption of one link, e.g. the trucker that delivers food the last mile, could halt a supply chain. COVID-19 is a threat to every link. Should a second wave hit before there is a readily available, cheap and effective treatment, it’s a very high probability that many supply lines will be disrupted and filling the gaps could easily overwhelm the nation’s businesses. 

Even today, on the evening news, we see images of vast caravans of cars lined up to get supplies from food banks. Imagine two weeks of empty shelves in the stores that feed our cities. How likely is it that civil order could be maintained in that situation? Will people suffer in silence if they realize that they can’t buy food for their kids because our leaders reopened the economy before a treatment was available because they wanted to prop up the stock market (which is how it will be portrayed)? If we want to look analogues for what life is like once supply chains break down, they’re readily available today in cities like Mogadishu, Kinshasa, and Port au Prince. 

 Thus far, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic seems to be a mélange of Boss Tweed, Don Corleone and Inspector Clouseau. For the next act, the administration has a choice: Churchill, who bolstered British morale during the London Blitz, or Pol Pot, who sacrificed millions of his countrymen for a bad idea. Let’s hope those around Trump can convince him that the cure for the disease is the cure for the economy.

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