With the coronavirus COVID-19 spreading rapidly worldwide and the first deaths reported in the United States, the issue of its impact on US stock markets is going viral and more and more people now realize that the new disease could have a serious impact on the outcome of the November presidential elections as well.
Any global pandemic poses three main threats to any country, namely medical, economic and, as a result, political, and the US is certainly not an exception. Is America’s healthcare system ready for such a potential pandemic?
In a WHO analysis of national health care systems, the United States ranks 37th out of 191 countries. Back in mid-February, optimists were confident that the US was better prepared for a possible epidemic than most countries in the world. The high death toll from a spate of natural disasters, starting with Hurricane Katrina, has forced the government to respond with a series of measures to get the national health system ready for “worst-case scenarios,” including the annual allocation of $1 billion to states and individual hospitals as part of emergency response measures.
Still, according to a Politico.com report that came on February 26, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), responsible, among other things, for combating infectious diseases, was not yet ready to detect whether the coronavirus was spreading across the country because of problems with a test developed by the CDC, potentially slowing the response if the virus starts taking hold, probably because the test lab itself could have been infected. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until very late in February that the White House finally began to realize the magnitude of the problem, if not medical, then, certainly, political.
President Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Vice President Mike Pence to lead a task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus rattled many domestic commentators who were quick torecall Pence’s failures in fighting the HIV outbreak in Indiana during his stint as governor there. In addition, during a February 28 meeting with voters, President Trump dismissed reports about the extent of the spread of coronavirus in the United States as a “hoax” being spread around by the Democrats, comparing it to allegations of his alleged ties to Russia and the impeachment process. It wasn’t until March 2 that Trump finally announced travel restrictions to countries affected by the coronavirus, and announced new screening procedures for people traveling from “high-risk countries.” The list of countries to which flights are canceled is also growing.
On March 2, The Washington Post warned that within the next few weeks the virus could spread across Washington State, which has already become one of the hotspots of undetected spread of the COVID-19 infection. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar II is being blamed for the agency’s slow response to the infection. Moreover, accusations of “incompetence,” “blatant slowness” and unwillingness to listen to critically acclaimed medical experts are now coming from members of the Trump camp itself, who actually stood behind Mr. Azar’s appointment to the head of the HHS. All this is adding to the general atmosphere of bureaucratic confusion. As of early-March 2020, the CDC had only one laboratory capable of providing a set of COVID-19 identification tests, and the provision of commercial test kits is being delayed due to sharp disagreements between officials and private pharmaceutical companies.
On March 3, experts said that the US authorities had “lost six weeks” of preparation time since the discovery of the first patient. This made it impossible to put the whole situation under control early on and, as a result, the risk of a mass spread of the disease among Americans increased exponentially. On March 1, Chris Meekins, a former HHS emergency-preparedness official, said the risk of significant US outbreaks had risen from 33 percent to 75 percent in the previous week alone. Federal health officials have also changed their rhetoric from “containment” of the virus, to measures designed to prevent the worst consequences for the United States. Meanwhile, by March 4, less than ten US states had launched mass-scale COVID-19 test programs, and a mere 12 out of 100 HHS laboratories had necessary equipment in place to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Meanwhile, lobbyists representing the interests of the US pharmaceutical industry are locking horns in Congress for billions of dollars that the federal government plans to unload to stave off a possible epidemic. The sticking point here is who and how will pay for patients who do not require immediate hospitalization, but are to be quarantined. As a result, a bill on the allocation of $8.3 billion for priority epidemic-prevention measures took almost until mid-March to be finally approved.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that much of the drugs imported by the US come from China. According to the Breitbart portal, we are talking about 97 percent of all antibiotics and 80 percent of the active substances and substances used in the production of medicines. Many basic medicines, as well as protective equipment for the medical personnel also come from abroad. Finally, US pharmaceutical firms no longer produce generic drugs. The past few weeks have seen a notable drop in supply volumes due to the coronavirus epidemic in China. The quality control of drugs and their precursors is a separate issue. The US authorities have thus found themselves hostages to their own policy of encouraging cost-reduction by pharmaceutical companies through shifting production to third countries.
The economic losses the US may incur as a result of a possible COVID-19 epidemic remain hard to estimate. Until very recently, healthy economy was a major factor Donald Trump could count on in his bid for a second term in the White House. And with good reason too as the poorest categories of US workers have seen a notable rise in their incomes, and salaries in the private sector continued to grow in February of this year.
Meanwhile, by the close of 2019, many signs were already visible warning about a possible economic decline in the second half of 2020. Even the initial reports about an incidence of COVID-19 infections in the US sent stock indices tumbling down. On February 24, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid by over 1,000 points and the S&P 500 index tumbled eight percent on February 26. The White House ramped up pressure on the Federal Reserve System to bring down the interest rates. On March 3, two weeks before the official date of the meeting of its Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage point in the first emergency rate move since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. Bloomberg suggested that the coronavirus could “play into Trump’s hands” on the assumption that the rate cut would bring in new investments and spur the US economy. The next day, however, Wall Street stocks plummeted again.
From a macroeconomic standpoint, the US external debt has kept going up throughout Trump’s presidency, along with the budget deficit. Thus, even before coronavirus, even a GDP growth of almost 2.1 percent could not be enough to reverse the negative trend. And now, the outbreak of the epidemic could be the “spark” that would send America’s “fragile economic balance” up in flames. The US could probably draw some consolation from projections similar to those World Bank experts made in 2006. According to those estimates, based on the 2003 SARS pandemic, in the event of a new global outbreak of the deadly flu, the first-year drop in the US GDP would be the least insignificant around, ranging from just one to three percent. With all that being said, just where things could go from now remains anyone’s guess.
One thing is clear: the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on the US economy will be long-term and it will take us a few months to get a whole picture of the scale of government measures being taken to offset the negative consequences of the coronavirus. Just in time for the decisive phase of the election race. A number of studies conducted in recent decades by the US academic community show that the state of the national economy, above all its year-to-year dynamics, significantly affects the political preferences of US voters. Even a moderate recession, let alone a full-blown one, that is enough to slow down the economy three to six months before the Election Day.
Not surprisingly, right after the first cases of COVID-19 in the US became evident the issue became a centerpiece of the election campaign. With a deep split running through the US political establishment and society as a whole, playing up the issue of the coronavirus infection could prove an easy way to win votes in the election race. US media is already talking about some anonymous sources spreading information about the coronavirus in social networks to freak out elderly voters to make sure they stay away from the Democratic Party primaries and to reduce the overall voter turnout in the November presidential elections.
Donald Trump’s critics may interpret the urgent rate cut by the Federal Reserve, led by a Trump appointee, as an attempt to increase the president’s chances for reelection. On the other hand, if the dollar sinks too low as a result of the Fed’s actions, it would eat into the US families’ income in the run-up to the November vote. Finally, lower interest rates can reflect badly on the labor market. A sharp slowdown in the employment rate a few months before Election Day 2016 left some voters wondering about a worsening situation in the labor market. As a result, many people did not vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party, whose representative was then in the White House.
Overall, the COVID-19 outbreak offers politicians potential gains while at the same time presenting them with serious risks. On the one hand, it gives one a perfect chance to present oneself as “a protector of the health of citizens.” On the other, panic among the population can negatively impact the approval ratings of the current administration, of state governors, and even of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, all the more so if the measures being taken are seen by people as ineffective.
Washington’s inability to check the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic may sap the Americans’ confidence in the federal government. As a result, the infection could turn from an important factor in the election campaign into a national security problem. The Trump administration’s current anti-coronavirus policy may factor in very significantly in Donald Trump’s chances for re-election. Indeed, if the situation with the coronavirus epidemic gets worse, COVID-19 might determine the outcome of the November vote.
From our partner International Affairs
In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence
The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.
She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.
In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.
Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.
Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.
In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.
Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.
The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure
Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.
Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.
Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.
Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.
As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.
A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.
Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.
Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.
AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.
AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.
AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.
Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.
AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.
Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?
That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption. And the stones certainly bruise.
Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers. Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January. It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago. It gets worse for Trump.
In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent. Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent. Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.
Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.
If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other. Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico. President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump, Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.
The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel. In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank. Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime. However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait. Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.
If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof. As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel. Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace. When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion. Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.
How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?
There things stand. As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early. Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money. The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage. Time it seems is on Trump’s side.
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