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No one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will end



IfIf you’ve been marking the pandemic by the pileup of cautious reopenings and rescheduled events, you might think that an end to this global disaster is in sight. Event planners for the Kentucky Derby and Bonnaroo already have new opening days on the books in September. The Olympics are scheduled to start in Tokyo on July 23rd, 2021. There’s just one problem: if anyone says that they know exactly when this pandemic will be over, they are lying.

No one can see the future. The virus is an unknown player, and the best minds on Earth can’t do more than make educated guesses about what comes next and when. Hell, we didn’t even notice the blood clot situation until just recently.

I know. A guess is not comforting when you’re dreading another week of monotony in the same four walls. End dates are comforting. Reopenings are comforting. Contemplating a future that looks a lot like our cozy, crowded past is way more comforting than our isolated present. But let’s not confuse comfort for truth. a future that looks a lot like our cozy, crowded past is way more comforting than our isolated present

When bowling alleys and tattoo parlors reopened in Georgia on Friday, the pandemic was not over. It won’t be over when the stay-at-home order in Michigan (maybe) lifts on May 15th or if the stay-at-home order in the Bay Area actually ends on May 31st.

The dates politicians are throwing around are not finish lines. They aren’t guesses at an end date for this pandemic, either. Shelter-in-place orders are just time-outs. We have no sure-fire treatments for the virus, no vaccine, and a limited supply of health care workers. To keep as many people alive as possible, we’ve done the only thing we can do to slow the spread: we’ve hid from each other.

The virus’s effects have not been, as some proposed, a great equalizer. The less you have, the harder you’re hit. The federal government has mostly failed at leading a coherent response to the pandemic. Doctors are clashing with the FBI over PPE, then running into the ER with whatever they can scrounge up. Governors are hitting up their private-jet-owner friends to have masks flown in from China to equip their hospitals. Nurses at other facilities are resorting to wearing garbage bags in an unsuccessful bid to avoid contracting the virus on the job.

People who are already vulnerable are getting hit the hardest. Death rates have soared in black communities already slammed by other public health crises. On the Navajo Nation, experts worry that water shortages are contributing to the virus’s continued spread. The virus has raged through cramped homeless shelters and through the communities that can’t afford to distance themselves. “It’s become very clear to me what a socioeconomic disease this is,” an ER doctor working in Elmhurst, Queens told The New Yorker. “People hear that term ‘essential workers.’ Short-order cooks, doormen, cleaners, deli workers—that is the patient population here.” In some US prisons, the vast majority of inmates are testing positive for the virus, leaving incarcerated persons in fear for their lives. One inmate, Sterling Rivers, grimly observed that “Our sentences have turned into death sentences” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Our failures around the coronavirus are systemic failures of public policy. Thanks to an inconsistent and often incoherent government response in the US, we now face an uncertain timeline for both economic and health recoveries

Those failures have left the health care system struggling to cope, plunged society into a well of uncertainty, and sent the economy cratering. Thanks to an inconsistent and often incoherent government response in the US, we now face an uncertain timeline for both economic and health recoveries. Twenty-six million people have filed unemployment claims.

And so some governors will call an end to stay-home orders in the hopes of resuscitating their economies. In Georgia, South Carolina, and parts of Tennessee, that time came on Friday. Other states, like California and New York, are taking a longer view, gradually easing some restrictions on movement while enforcing new requirements — masks on, low temps, can’t lose.

As cases decrease, restrictions will relax. But once we let our guard down, we’ll likely see resurgences of cases, once again straining health resources — leaving us with no choice but to close ourselves off again. That’s what’s happening in parts of China now, where new outbreaks of the same disease have emerged. The open-and-shut economy will likely continue as cases ebb and flow.

There are paths to victory, but as Ezra Klein notes at Vox, “these aren’t plans for returning to anything even approaching normal.” Victory over the virus will involve a lot of things that we don’t have yet. Scientific discoveries will help defeat the virus — but science can’t do it alone. Public policies will play a huge role, and even with firm health guidelines and speedy scientific developments, it will take longer than we want for us to truly eke out a win.

What does a win look like? It will take widespread tests of everyone who might be sick and careful quarantining of anyone who tests positive. It will take armies of contact tracers to trace down anyone who might have been exposed. These low-tech interventions are the best thing we’ve got while we give researchers the time they need to come up with other solutions. Our brightest prospects — vaccines and treatments — are still in the minors

Scientists will labor over vaccines and treatments, but the overwhelming majority of their trials will turn up nothing useful. They’ll also keep trying to understand the virus and our bodies’ complicated response to it, in the hopes of developing legitimate antibody tests. Eventually, we may discover something that destroys the virus without wrecking our bodies. But none of that is ready today.

The end is still likely to be a long way away, as journalist Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic: “The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world.”

Consider this a rebuilding year. It might even turn into rebuilding years, depending on our progress. Our brightest prospects — vaccines and treatments — are still in the minors. Even antibody testing isn’t ready to be called up to the big leagues, at least not yet.

This is a long game, and focusing on the victory celebrations — like New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plan to “throw the biggest, best parade to honor” health care workers — won’t get us to the end. If we focus on what victory looks like instead of what it takes to get us there, we’re going to keep being disappointed

If we focus on what victory looks like instead of what it takes to get us there, we’re going to keep being disappointed. We’ll feel defeated every time a drug fails in testing. We can’t let it get to us like that. The parades, the ballgames, the worship services that we’re looking forward to, those will be there once this is over. What we’ve got to ensure now is that when we get to reopening day — whenever it is — that our concert halls and stadiums and spiritual homes are filled with as many of our human siblings as we can possibly save.

It still sucks when the goalposts move from April 15th to April 30th, then to May 15th. It feels like we’re Charlie Brown and the end to this is a football that Lucy keeps pulling away. But when it comes to the virus itself, the clock isn’t the statistic that matters. These are the ones that do: numbers of tests, numbers of new infections, and numbers of bodies in the morgues.

When the numbers of tests go up and confirmed cases and deaths go down, then our playbook will change. But it won’t be the end of the fight — not yet. We won’t be able to mark this finale in our calendars

We play this through to the end — there is no other option. Victory might look like a vaccine. It might look like a robust testing regime or a new treatment. It might look like us cobbling together a sense of normalcy and still watching for repeated outbreaks. Whatever form it takes, we’ll fight our way there with masks, thermometers, and soap, buying some time along the way. We’ll adjust our playbook as the virus adapts. We’ll position ourselves farther apart. We’ll do it again, and again when the next waves of this virus come. We will be exhausted when we get there, but we will get there. But if we don’t pace ourselves for the long haul, it will be that much harder to get through.

We won’t be able to mark this finale in our calendars. All we can do is get through today, pushing our leaders to get the people on the front lines the resources and time they need to get us through this. We need politicians who will stop telling us the comforting things we want to hear and start acting to keep as many of us alive as possible.

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Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’



Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.

The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.

“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.

Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.

Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:

“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”

He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.

“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.

Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.

“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.

The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”

The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.

And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.

Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.

“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.

Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.

The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.

Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.

More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.

“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”

Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”

The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.

In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.

Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”

Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”

The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.

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Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021



Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?

For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.

The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.

At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.

The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.

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Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet



National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.

The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.

The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads. 

The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.

“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.

“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”

“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.

“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.

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