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US Percentage of World’s Coronavirus Cases Is Declining, but the libertarian policies remain catastrophic

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At the start of the day on May 2nd, the U.S. had 4.2% of the world’s population and 33.3%, or one-third, of all coronavirus-19 cases.

At the start of the day on May 10th, the U.S. had 32.9% of cases. The decline from 33.3% to 32.9% is .4% down, or a decline of slightly over 1% of the 33.9%, in 8 days. It’s virtually certain never to go down to the 4.2% of global coronavirus cases which would match America’s 4.2% of the global population.

America will therefore probably, for a long time to come, have a larger number of coronavirus-19 cases than any other country. America has, furthermore, been adding new cases at around 20 to 30 thousand per day since around April 1st and therefore still continues rising, but as the virus spreads and takes hold in more and more countries, America’s percentage of the global total is probably now declining, from the peak of one-third (33.3%), which it had reached on May 2nd.

The libertarian Mises Institute headlined on May 7th, “How Many Lives Will Politicians Sacrifice in the Name of Fighting COVID-19?” and argued for do-nothing governmental policy, and for relaxation of the “lockdowns” that are in place. Mike Whitney at the libertarian Unz Review  headlined on May 4th, “Sweden Is the Model” and wrote that “Herd immunity is the only path that is currently available.” This means there should be no “lockdowns.” He asserted that “After 6 weeks of this nonsense, many people are getting fed-up and demanding that the lockdowns be ended”:

As we said in last week’s column, the lockdowns must be lifted gradually, that is crucial.

“You have to step down the ladder one rung at a time”, says Senior Swedish epidemiologist and former Chief Scientist of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Johan Giesecke. In other words, slowly ease up on the restrictions and gradually allow people to get back to work. That is the best way forward.

Sweden has, indeed, taken a remarkably libertarian approach to dealing with Covid-19. As I wrote on April 22nd under the headline “Why Post-Coronavirus America Will Have Massive Poverty”, comparing Sweden’s policies versus the more socialistic Denmark’s policies on this:

The daily number of Denmark’s new Covid-19 cases peaked on April 7th, and has been declining since that time. Its neighbor Sweden peaked on April 8th. Sweden’s emergency legislation is less strict about lockdowns, but relies more on individual discretion. However, since Sweden, like Denmark, is a democratic socialist country, individuals needn’t worry about paying medical bills, nor about being paid while on sick-leave. So, employees aren’t desperate to return to their places of work, such as in America; and, therefore, these countries don’t spread the infection as readily as in the U.S. and are thus far less likely to have recurring peaks and delayed terminations of the coronavirus crisis. (By contrast: in America, where losing one’s job can mean losing one’s health care, even sick employees may be inclined to stay on the job and perhaps infect customers.) And there are no corporate bailouts in either Denmark’s or Sweden’s legislation. Denmark’s Finance Minister, the Social Democrat (or democratic socialist) Nicolai Wammen was interviewed for 15 minutes on March 27th, by Christiane Amanpour, and he explained Denmark’s emergency law, which was overwhelmingly bottom-up, not top-down (such as America’s is).

Here, therefore, is the actual performance [number of cases per million population], thus far, of both of those two countries:

DENMARK = 1,329 peaked April 7th

SWEDEN = 1,517 peaked April 8th

Both of them are reasonably comparable to Germany, UK, Turkey, and Iran, but not as good as S. Korea, and not nearly as good as the two best, China and Japan.

As of the start of the day on May 10th, those numbers are:

DENMARK = 1,782 (up 34%)

SWEDEN = 2,567 (up 69%)

Consequently, as more time passes, Denmark’s policy is considerably more effective at keeping down the number of cases than is Sweden’s.

Furthermore: whereas Sweden had tested only 14,704 persons per million (which is a very low percentage), Denmark had tested 53,345 per million (which is an extremely high percentage), and this fact likewise indicates that whereas Sweden, which has been reducing its socialism and increasing its libertarianism, is pursuing a remarkably libertarian approach to Covid-19, Denmark, which remains socialistic, is pursuing a remarkably socialist approach. And Denmark’s approach is increasingly better than Sweden’s in terms of keeping down the percentage of Covid-19 cases.

As regards the economies of those two countries: The unemployment rate in Denmark at the end of March 2020 was 4.1% and that was 170,000 unemployed; and as of May 5th there are 180,000 unemployed Danes; so, Denmark’s productivity hasn’t been much affected yet by Covid 19.

By contrast: Reuters headlined on April 14th, “Swedish unemployment rate could reach 10% by summer – Labour Board”, and reported that “Unemployment in Sweden could reach 10% in the coming months if the current wave of lay-offs due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues, the Labour Board said. … Unemployment was 7.4% in February, but many companies have since shut down and sent workers home due to supply chain problems and measures to prevent the spread of the virus.” On May 7th, the Wall Street Journal bannered “Sweden Has Avoided a Coronavirus Lockdown. Its Economy Is Hurting Anyway.”

Consequently, the newly libertarian Sweden’s coronavirus policies, as compared to the still-socialistic Denmark’s, are actually a disaster — like America’s are (though America, being more libertarian than Sweden, is doing even worse).

In other words: the supposed either-or choice (trade-off) that the libertarian U.S. regime and its propagandists assert, between either controlling the epidemic (continuing the “lockdowns” etc.) or else preventing economic collapse (“reopening the businesses” etc.), is fraudulent. The exact opposite is the actual case: in order to minimize the economic damage, controlling the epidemic is basic — whatever is sound policy for the public’s health is also sound economic policy. (America’s libertarian President takes on faith the opposite viewpoint; and, so, on May 10th, the Washington Post reported that, “Trump has expressed confidence that lifting public health restrictions will jump-start the economy.” The only basis for accepting libertarianism is faith, because the empirical evidence disproves it — and not only on this matter.)

What, then, is the situation regarding the three major countries that are doing the most effective job of keeping down the percentage of their population that’s Covid-19 infected: China (58 cases per million), South Korea (211) , and Japan (123)? (Note those stunningly low numbers — and each one of those countries is well past its peak of daily new cases, which the libertarian countries are not.)

America’s propaganda organizations blame China for the coronavirus-19 and criticize anyone who publicly advocates China’s model on this, but as more time passes and the U.S. regime’s accusations against China continue to be ‘documented’ only by half-truths and outright lies, a public need increases that what China’s policies actually have been regarding controlling this epidemic become accurately understood. On May 9th, the South China Morning Post bannered “Coronavirus response: China’s military may have filled the gap left by the US but it’s only temporary, experts say”, and ignored even touching upon what China’s policy is and has been regarding coronavirus. On May 8th, they headlined “Coronavirus: China to revive special ‘off-budget bonds’ as pandemic stokes debt dilemma” and said little more than that the Government’s debts were increasing due to the virus: “‘Off-budget doesn’t mean it can be excluded from the overall debt level,’ said David Wang, head of China economics at Credit Suisse.” How that money is being spent is not discussed, other than “increasing the limit for local governments to issue bonds for infrastructure spending.” To the extent that there is specifically a coronavirus policy-response, rather than merely a continuation or amplification of pre-existing economic policies, that’s not mentioned. There are merely ‘filler’ statements, such as “The central government has not announced how the proceeds from the special treasury bonds will be used, but analysts warn they will be wasted if funneled to projects that do not make economic sense.” Whatever China’s specific coronavirus-19 policy-responses are is non-public information.

Back on 28 March 2017, the America-based SupChina site headlined “How Does Healthcare In The U.S. Compare With China’s?” and reported that “More than 97 percent of people in China use public health insurance systems” and patients who had experienced both America’s and China’s said that “receiving treatment in the U.S. is less efficient” but “that sometimes patients in China simply can’t see a doctor without the help of a scalper.” At least a reasonable assumption would be that China is more socialistic in its coronavirus policies than are the vast majority of other countries, which have dramatically worse coronavirus results.

South Korea has done remarkably little coronavirus-19 testing, but remarkably much coronavirus contact tracing (if that can even be effectively done with such little testing). So, the situation there isn’t much clearer than it is in China.

Japan has, apparently, been socialistic in its policy-response but relying far more on the public’s voluntary compliance than on law-enforcement in order to reduce to a minimum the number of coronavirus cases. Of course, in a country such as the U.S. and throughout Latin America — lands where the government is widely distrusted — any compliance whatsoever relies necessarily upon law-enforcement, and so the Japanese method would almost certainly not work.

All three of those countries are, of course, culturally Asian; so, their vastly superior handling of the coronavirus maybe isn’t due ONLY to their being more socialistic than the U.S. and other failing countries are. They are all non-Western nations. 

As of May 10th, two countries that have approximately half the population-size of the smallest of those three (which is the 52 million population in South Korea) also have stunningly low Covid-19 infection-rates and seem likewise to have passed the peak in the number of their daily new cases: Taiwan has a population of 25 million, and has only 18 cases per million; Venezuela has 30 million and only 14 cases per million. Both nations also have socialized the healthcare function and (like all of the countries mentioned here except U.S.) 100% of the people there have health insurance. (It’s a right, not a privilege, in all of the countries except America.) As regards the percentage of people who have been tested for Covid-19, that percentage is 2,819 per million in Taiwan, and 18,012 per million in Venezuela. (For a few comparisons: it’s 1,676/M in Japan, 54,873/M in Denmark, 14,704/M in Sweden, and 28,452/M in U.S. So: the percentage who have been tested seems not to correlate with a nation’s success or failure in dealing with Covid-19.)  

The indications, thus far, are that the libertarian approach (which is exemplified especially in today’s U.S., UK, and most of Latin America) is catastrophic, and that whatever may have been its alleged benefits in a pre-Covid-19 world, only intensification of its propaganda (such as by the ‘news’-media in those more-libertarian countries) can continue it into the post-Covid-19 world. Libertarianism is, now, more clearly than ever before, a failed model.

Why would that be? Perhaps it’s because, in reality, the only people who have more liberty under libertarianism are the controlling owners of corporations, the wealthiest 1% (who fund the politicians and the media), whereas everybody else has less actual liberty, and more insecurity, under libertarianism — the fact is, libertarianism is liberty ONLY for the richest, and the opposite for everybody else: it is aristocracy, instead of democracy. It’s for only the big-corporate owners, and especially for the international-corporate owners.

The economic future for the world, and especially for the U.S., is bad, and not only because of this plague. On April 14th, I headlined “Why at Least America Will Be in Another Great Depression”, and explained it there in one way; on May 1st, The Saker headlined “The Saker interviews Michael Hudson about the current economic crisis”, and Hudson explained it there in another way — these are different sides of the same phenomenon, but our analyses are the same (except that he is more optimistic than I: he said “The current depression is the worst since the 1930s,” whereas I expect it to be the worst ever). My article was simply focusing on the way that the coronavirus-crisis is going to expedite what I expect to be the biggest economic crash in world history. Hudson said that “We are at the end of the 75-year upswing that began in 1945 when the war ended.” I agree with that, too, and have elsewhere identified 26 July 1945 as the commencement of this pillaging by the Deep State, via its millions of employees and other agents. This will be the ultimate near-term catastrophe of libertarianism, otherwise called “neoliberalism,” and in international affairs this pillaging is called “neoconservatism” and “imperialism.” America therefore stands now at the precipice, facing a grim new world, and that is how we got here. Coronavirus merely expedites the fall off this cliff. But the ascent to such an extremely bad end started, actually, on 26 July 1945. That’s when the fateful decision was made, from which the post-WW-II world became irrevocably shaped — the foundation was laid at that time, for America’s Deep State (America’s billionaires, not the CIA and not the think tanks, but themselves, who actually pull the strings behind the curtain) to take over the country and almost the entire world, and for an even worse Depression than the one that FDR had inherited from Herbert Hoover. America’s taxpayers now pay around half of global military expenditures, and the bill for its billionaires to use their government so as to grab and hold control over that vast American empire is now coming due. Nothing like this has ever existed before. And Covid-19 simply expedites the coming American free-fall.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Transition 2021: How Biden is likely to approach the Middle East

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In terms of foreign policy, the new President of the United States, Joe Biden,is likely to face numerous challenges, especially when it comes to the Middle East because of the disastrous policies of the former President, Donald Trump, in the region. Even in his inauguration speech, Biden made it clear that it was going to be testing time. Some of the challenges that the new administration would be facing includethe nuclear deal with Iran, the ongoing war in Yemen, issues of human rights issues and the current deadlock between Israel and Palestine. There is some possibility that Biden’s foreign policy towards the Middle East would either be a revival of Barack Obama’s former policies or new strategies would be formulated based on the nature of the challenges faced. However, it is certain that Biden will address or undo Trump’s terrible policies in the region. 

The Biden administration’s top foreign policy agenda is the policy towards Iran. The Iran nuclear deal (2015) or JCOPA was considered to be a milestone in multilateral diplomacy that was irresponsibly abandoned by Trump in 2018. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran aimed to please the traditional allies as they faced a common enemy in Iran. Biden has promised to return to the 2015 JCPOA agreement, and he would also discuss Iran’s nuclear program and exchange for sanctions relief. In this process, it is expected that Washington might pressure Iran to withdraw its support for regional proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, the US would also seek to curb Iran’s export of precision guided missiles to her regional allies. Iran though, has already made it clear that these issues would not be discussed in the event of a renegotiated JCPOA. Furthermore, this plan may be complicated by the recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which was not condemned by the White House that Iran blames on Israel. Public outrage had not even subdued at the point due to the assassination of Qasim Sulemani. Currently, the architecture of the Middle Eastern region is even more complex and challenging than it was four years ago butthe fact is that Iran cannot afford military conflict at this point when its economy is already crippling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic along with the sanctions imposed by the US.

Trump administration’s “Israel-first” approach in the region brought severe criticism at the global level. The Abraham Accord, signed in September of last year,which normalized Israel’s relations with UAE & Bahrain, is widely seen as Donald Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement. This Accord altered the decades long regional perception that Arab-Israel peace could not be achieved without first addressing the issue of statehood for Palestinians. Biden has said that he supports more countries recognizing Israel but at the same time Israel needs to work towards genuine solutions between the two states. Moreover, the new administration at the White House will not show the same tolerance for Israel’s settler expansionism as its predecessor. However, there are certain foreign policies by the Trump administration that the new US leadership does not want to renew. The normalization of Arab-Israel relations is something that enjoys bipartisan support. And also, the shift of the US embassy to Jerusalem seems unlikely to be undone.

The US policy inthe Middle East under the new leadership will be less ideological and would be more based on fundamental principles.  These principles will greatly focus on human rights as some analysts view human rights as the core foreign policy agenda of the Biden administration. Thus, it does not seem not to be good news for the traditional allies of the US including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are a variety of issues in addition to the human rights issues: the KSA intervention in Yemen, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the lingering mistrust, the jailing of activists and Jamall Khashoggi’s murder case, which are creating uncertainties between the Washington and Riyadh. Hence, KSA is going to have a very difficult time with the Biden administration. Similarly, the new administration can also be expected to take a less tolerant view towards Moscow and Ankara because of the extraterritorial activities in the Middle Eastern region.

Certainly, returning to the Iran nuclear dealofficially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-will take a longer time to review because of the complexity of the issue and the domestic problems that the US is currently facing. There is also a possibility of a dangerous escalation without a nuclear deal due to Iran’s aims of buildingmilitary scenarios. Therefore, multilateral diplomacy is the best option for regional peace and security, which has been tried in the previous years.Even the JCPOA was a result of such diplomacy. The US ending its support to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen might turn away the traditional allies for some time but not permanently due to the common interests in the region. Biden is also likely to alter Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from the region as it would decrease US influence in the region. The top priority of the US administration in the Middle East would be to try and manage Iran’s problems and to maintain reasonable relations with Israel. Traditional allies of the US in the Middle East were content and supportive of Trump’s policies in the region but they view Biden, not as a President, but Vice President of the Obama Administration. Trump’s bilateral relations were often based on personal ties with the foreign leaders while Biden is expected to adopt a more multilateral approach in engaging with the allies. Still, scholars believe that there would be no fundamental change in the US foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially when it comes to protecting its vested interests in the region.

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Rejoining the UNHRC will be the State Department’s first diplomatic mistake

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As over the last days US Vice President Harris swore in Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the new US Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of State Blinken announced in parallel that the US is now seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council, in an attempt to rejoin the UN system. But that’s not the right first move back at the UN that the US should be making. And that’s not what the progressive left had in mind when the real left groups put in office the new Biden Administration.

My perspective comes from having worked in the UN human rights system and as a finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech last year – but also as a progressive left voice.

The days when UN engagement defined Democrats vis-a-vis Republicans are over.

Shunning the UN has always been a Republican hallmark but backing and pouring so much funding into an old style, corrupt bureaucracy that has little to do with “diplomacy” is not what the new, awaken progressive left wants either.

Several weeks ago, I made the estimate that the 10bln dollars which the US government pours into the black hole called the UN equals the Covid relief that 16mln struggling American people could be getting now. The Biden Administration’s State Department diplomats have to remember who put them in office.

Democrat centrist diplomats have more in common with the UN in terms of ways, goals, style and world view than they do with the progressive left. Backing the UN means backing the old, corrupt ways, which the real progressive left voted to break last year.

The decision to announce the US’s goal to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council comes in the same week when President Biden finally announced his real stance on the Black Lives Matter ‘defund the police’ goals. Biden, it turns out, unsurprisingly does not support that. That’s not what the progressive left signed up for, either.

The UN institutional funding inertia by the US government does not define the Democratic Party anymore. That’s not what the left voters want. 

The left’s reasons for not embracing the UN and the UN Human Rights Council have little to do with the usual Republican ‘go it alone’ at the international stage.

Yes to diplomacy and multilateralism. No to the corrupt, faceless UN. “International diplomacy” is no longer the same thing as the UN system.

The wave that rose across American political life last year, with so many young black activists and so many people voting for the first time, signaled a big resounding No to old ways and old institutions, which have little concern for the actual needs of the people.

The new US Ambassador to the UN, Thomas-Greenfield, will have the tough job of reforming the UN, and in my opinion, even defunding the UN.

The days when love for the UN defined Democrats are certainly over. It’s time for the Biden Administration to do what it was elected for, which is to not simply go back to the same old, same old corrupt, faceless bureaucratic institutions swimming in money. This is not what we want. The progressive left voted for change and now that also includes the UN.

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U.S. Climate Policy Could Break the Ice with Russia

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Photo: Fiona Paton/ flickr

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity” — Albert Einstein

Within the climate crisis lies strategic opportunity for the United States. Climate change offers the chance to earn back the good will of allies, to prepare American cities for an urgently needed increase in immigration, and to reinvent U.S.-led institutions that have gone stale. Perhaps most of all, foreign policymakers should remain cognizant of how climate action can help the U.S. navigate relations with the other great powers.

As a recent report from the Center for a New American Security details, synergy between China and Russia is more problematic for U.S. interests than the sum of the challenges that each nation poses individually. Similarly, a recent Atlantic Council publication observed that “allowing Russia to drift fully into China’s strategic embrace over the last decade will go down as the single greatest geostrategic error.” Chinese and Russian interests do currently align on defense, economics, and the degradation of the U.S.-designed world order, but the nature of their alignment does not constitute an alliance.

In characterizing the relationship, this distinction is paramount. For as long as China and Russia remain merely convenient partners, rather than ideologically kindred allies, it is possible to keep these neighbors at arm’s length. To this end, the U.S. must reorient its approach to Russia. It is the Russian perception that world politics are rigged to benefit the U.S. at Russia’s expense that has prompted its support for China.

Russia’s national interests are rooted in the desire for respect. With this in mind, Russia could pull back from synergy with China if a better opportunity to advance these interests presented itself. Ultimately, the ability of the U.S. to offer a mutually acceptable alternative will hinge on two related factors: the Arctic and NATO. Critically, the issue of climate change is central to both of these factors.

In the Arctic, rapid warming removes barriers to resource exploitation, shipping activity, and great power competition. This has drawn many non-Arctic states to the region. Yet, even with China inserting itself as a “Near-Arctic State,” Russia has expressed the need for a hierarchy of regional influence in which the interests of Arctic states are prioritized over non-Arctic states. On this, American and Russian interests align.

Russian distrust of the U.S. complicates matters, however. Arctic military assertiveness from Russia is evidence of its sensitivity to the NATO alliance. In response, U.S. military branches have been releasing strategies for Arctic-specific forward defense. Such militarism is not conducive to improving relations, securing sovereign influence, or addressing climate change. 

In order to limit undue Chinese influence in the region and stabilize its relations with Russia by securing a multilateral agreement that formalizes an Arctic hierarchy, the U.S. will need to alter its foreign policy so that Russia perceives it to be a viable partner. The alteration should be sufficient for reducing friction with Russia’s core interests, but not so extreme that liberal values or American security are put in jeopardy. Such transactional considerations should include fashioning a new climate-positive role for the U.S. in NATO. After all, the permanent physical presence of roughly 76,000 U.S. troops on the European continent not only irks Russia, but this posture is also expensive, carbon-intensive, and perhaps not even the most effective approach to conflict deterrence. 

Indeed, research has shown that rapid deployment of new forces is significantly more likely to stymie aggression. This suggests that the U.S. should reduce its troop levels in Europe by at least 75 percent while bolstering rapid deployment readiness. This would allow the U.S. to simultaneously reduce its military’s fuel demand and greenhouse gas emissions, earn the good will necessary for stronger diplomacy with Russia, and still honor its security commitment to NATO in the event of a crisis. Moreover, the U.S. could then reinvest the potential savings into both Arctic sustainability and NATO’s capacity to manage climate insecurity.

Through the establishment of a bounded Arctic order and the greening of American leadership in NATO, the U.S. can dispel Sino-Russian synergy in the region and help maintain balance between the great powers. Specifically, these actions would both politically distance China from Russia and give the Kremlin substantial reason to begin feeling more optimistic about its relations with the West. To be sure, similar measures will be necessary in other regions to fully assure balance. However, the Arctic is a natural place for the U.S. to begin this endeavor. Usefully, the themes of climate mitigation and adaptation provide a blueprint for what countering Sino-Russian synergy elsewhere ought to generally entail.

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