The Arrogant: “Rules Do Not Apply To Me”

By Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON– A commentator who apparently knows Steve Bannon quite well, (Bannon is a conservative politics strategist who advised Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign), expressed surprise when the news broke that Bannon and others had been arrested and charged with the crime of defrauding donors who had given money to a symbolic project about building a piece of the “famous” US-Mexico border that Donald Trump campaigned on. (The Trump administration has no part in this project). Well, if the charges can be proven, it appears that Bannon and other associates misappropriated part of the money donated and illegally diverted it to other pursuits, this way betraying the donors and breaking the law.

How could this happen?

The commentator could not understand how this could have happened. How is it possible that a very rich man like Bannon would do such a thing? After all the charges are about the illegal misappropriation of a few hundreds of thousands, pocket change if you are worth millions. Why would Bannon take such a big chance, breaking the law for so little money, asks the commentator in disbelief?

Jerry Falwell Jr. advertised his bad behavior

And what about Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. openly advertising his rules-breaking behavior? He really did not know that posting on line suggestive pictures of himself holding a glass with an alcoholic beverage, with his pants partially unzipped, while hugging a woman who is not his wife who also displayed partially unzipped pants would not look good? After all he was the President of a well known Christian University that strongly promotes chastity and proper behavior. Talk about unforced error!

And what about a few movie stars and athletes caught shoplifting? They most certainly do not lack the money to buy the merchandise they intended to steal.

Hubris

Well, what do we make of these examples of seemingly irrational, nonsensical behavior? I have a simple answer: “hubris”. For the ancient Greeks who coined this word, in a religious context hubris was open transgression against God. In a civil context it meant sexual assault, and also theft of public or sacred property. In other words, hubristic behavior was about acting in open disregard for established social norms and laws.

You get the picture. The hubristic person is in fact an unhinged individual who created a childish, amoral fantasy in which he lives. In this fantasy, he/she truly believes to be superior to all others. Therefore rules and laws that should be followed by other human beings do not apply to them.

Rules are for the others

Assuming that Bannon can be proven guilty, he probably believed that he could freely use money received for one purpose for other goals, as he saw fit. Being smart, super intelligent and clever beyond belief, of course he could do this.

Likewise, with his repeated instances of rules-breaking behavior (the example cited here is just the most recent one), Falwell Jr. reveals that as President of Liberty University he had great fun running an ostensibly Christian higher education institution, while he did not believe that any of the precepts taught to thousands of students applied to him. In others words, it is alright for common folks to follow and respect strong moral principles. But superior, super smart people like Falwell are exempted. They can do whatever they want, with total impunity.

Same thing for the celebrities who engage in law-breaking behavior, apparently for the fun of it.

Humility

All the great religions and the moral philosophers teach humility, and warn us against pride and arrogance. Being human, we sometimes fail. We make mistakes. Hopefully we have the wisdom to recognize our errors and try to do better.

But there are some who probably learn nothing from their mistakes, even when they are caught, embarrassed and sometimes jailed. They continue arguing that what they did was not really that bad. Their downfall was caused by sinister plots. Remember: they are special. Rules do not apply to them.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




When Education Is Valued

by Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON – Discussing Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President, it has been noted that Senator Kamala Harris’ mother came from the top placed Brahmin caste in Tamil, a state in south eastern India. While we know that the Indian caste system created hereditary privileges for those lucky enough to be born in the Brahmin caste, slated to become priests and academics, it is important to stress that the Tamil Brahmins, (colloquially known as Tambrams), were not just an entitled social class with hereditary power and prestige. They strongly cultivated education, for themselves and their offspring, as an extremely important value and key priority.

The importance of learning

Which is to say that children born into these Tamil Brahmin families are taught from a very young age that it is their noble duty to learn and do their very best to excel in all academic subjects, while also learning to appreciate literature, music, and the arts. In a sense, learning for the young Tamil Brahmins was and is a devotional activity. Becoming well educated was and is considered an indispensable precondition for those who aspire to fill important leadership positions within their societies.

It appears that the Tamil Brahmins who left India and emigrated to other countries brought this core principle with them. So, it is no surprise that Harris’s mother, a precocious young scientist who came to the US at age 19 with the goal of becoming a cancer researcher, taught her two daughters the value of education.

And the lesson was well received. Young Kamala Harris received every possible incentive to do well in school and then pursue a higher education. Eventually she became a lawyer, and then a prosecutor and finally California’s Attorney General. Compared to millions of children who do not receive this strong incentive to learn, it is quite clear that Harris, a first generation kid, daughter of minority immigrants, (her father was a Black Jamaican economist), was lucky to have a mother who explained to her how vital a good education would be for her. She grew up in an environment that valued and revered academic accomplishment and the acquisition of new knowledge. Pursuing it became second nature for her.

Ben Carson’s mother

Jumping to a completely different scenario, there is the story of Dr. Ben Carson. He grew up in a household of modest means. He was a Black kid raised by a mother who worked as a housekeeper. This was not the ideal environment for developing extraordinary academic interests and abilities. And yet this is exactly what happened. But not by accident. It happened because Carson’s mother, having observed how the children of the White families she worked for spent hours reading while doing their homework, insisted that her sons would also engage in a rigorous reading routine.

Thanks to the strong and loving encouragement of an uneducated mother who however grasped the critical importance of learning, Ben Carson did well in his studies, and later on became a famous pediatric neurosurgeon. Again, this was not a fluke, nor a miracle. It was mostly about the positive influence of a loving mother who wanted her kids to escape the limitations of their environment by acquiring the intellectual tools that would allow them to become well educated adults, and therefore able to climb up the socioeconomic ladder.

Good Charter Schools

Add to this list very successful charter schools like the Success Academy schools founded by pioneer educator Eva Moskowitz in New York City. Mostly minority children, many coming from truly disadvantaged families, come into these charter school on the basis of a lottery system. In other words, there is no prescreening, or preselection of the best and brightest. By definition, these children come to the Success Academy schools with no built-in socio-economic advantages. Probably there are few if any books at home. And in most cases they have parents who may not exercise the positive influence of Carson’s mother, pushing them to read.

And yet, what look like miracles do happen in these charter schools. Children who are truly disadvantaged do well. In fact, extremely well. According to Moskowitz, in her Success Academy schools kids perform well because while in school they develop love of learning.

Love of learning

I think this is the key issue; for without love of learning school is at best an obligation. Quite often, lacking a real desire or incentive to pursue higher degrees, a chore to be ended as soon as possible. And when the quality of teaching is low, (this is often the case in many American public schools), if you combine lack of interest on the part of the children and poor teaching, the end result of this “education” is bad to horrible.

So, what do we make of all this? The lesson I see is that education, especially for the underprivileged, cannot be just a routine service, something that is dished out just because it is mandatory service; but without any enthusiasm, and far too often by under qualified and unmotivated instructors.

Help underprivileged kids

Someone –parent, guardian, big brother, big sister, teacher, mentor, priest– must instill in the young person a love of learning. And this is especially important for the children who, due to no fault of their own, are raised in a household with a low level of literacy, and therefore almost no intellectual stimulation. Compared to their peers who grow up as children of well educated parents, with lots of books at home and dinner conversations that focus on literature, science, the arts, technology, and more, these kids have enormous obstacles in front of them.

This is why it is so important to encourage the creation of more high quality charter schools where children hopefully will find a nurturing environment that will stimulate in them the love of learning –the essential propellent leading to higher achievement.

Adults as mentors

For all the others kids, it is absolutely crucial that some adults, it doesn’t really matter who, will mentor them, show real interest in them, and help them appreciate learning, and help them understand how through learning they will be able to broaden their minds, understand new subjects, establish connections and distinctions.

Kamala Harris benefited from the revered Tamil Brahmin tradition. Ben Carson had a loving mother who intuitively understood the value of education. Success Academy pupils receive precious incentives while in school.

But millions of kids are not so lucky. They need help. Ideally, great teachers will generate love of learning. But we do not seem to have enough of them in our uneven public schools systems. This being the case, someone else has to fill this void. Otherwise, too many children will be lost. Their talents will not be developed. This would be a great pity, for them and for our society.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




We Lost A Shared Reality

By Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON – May be this was never true; but for a very long time many in America could argue that, whatever our political or ideological differences, we all shared the same facts based reality. We may have differed on what to do about issues and problems; but at least in a broad sense we were basing our judgments, opinions and counsel on the same facts.

Maybe it is a myth

As I said, may be deep down this was never true. Indeed, we have ample evidence that different segments of the American society for the longest time lived in different universes, with their own set of facts and related explanations.

Just to cite the most egregious example, leaders in the American South, even after the end of the Civil War that formally ended slavery, for almost a century embraced the fantasy that racial segregation was a fair and just legal and social arrangement, wisely created for the benefit of all, Whites and Blacks. They claimed that the facts on the ground demonstrated that segregation worked just fine for all parties. Nobody seemed to notice, let alone acknowledge, any conflicts between the US constitutional principle of equal justice for all and statutes that clearly and openly contradicted this core principle, denying African Americans their civil and voting rights, opportunity, education, jobs, and a lot more. And this is just one example, albeit gigantic.

A shared reality

Still, despite this and other discrepancies, the American cultural and political elites seemed to base their opinions on the reassuring assumption that they were drawn from a reality we all shared and agreed with.

For many years, the media reinforced this assumption. Every evening, when the news came into millions of American homes from the three big networks, not many viewers would challenge the truthfulness of “the facts” that were presented to them by the News Anchors, (all of them serious looking, middle aged, white males), and all the other correspondents. If it was on the evening news, well, it was factual. It was the truth. Revered CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite famously signed off his daily broadcast with “And that’s the way it is” which could be interpreted as “This is the final word on this. We have told you the entire story”.

Again, may be what was presented on TV every night was not the entire truth. May be there was subtle or not so subtle editing and therefore willful manipulation in the way the events of the day were covered. But, even if this was happening, even if millions of viewers were in facts duped and fed lies, not many Americans openly doubted the truthfulness of what they watched every evening.

Customized media for true believers

Well, if we fast forward to today, we realize that we are in an entirely different world. Today we do not even pretend to have a shared reality. We have different realities, and we openly and consciously follow the one that suits us the most. When it comes to “news”, we choose to watch, read and listen to those who speak to our biases and prejudices. In the public affairs shows there is not even a pretense to be “objective”. Facts are presented selectively, with an obvious intent to spin in order to make a prepackaged point. Likewise, no effort to separate news and opinions. It is all a big stew. Worse yet, millions of people see nothing wrong with this approach to “news coverage”. The fact that the opinions we love to listen to in many if not most cases our grounded on fantasies, or at the very least serious distortion of “the facts”, is not even contemplated.

A nation of cult followers

Is this unprecedented? Well, not entirely. If we look at our past, of course here in America we always had some extreme political movements, strange cults, and weird sects that proclaimed outlandish things, often basing them on non existent “facts”. And these groups attracted some followers. But the point is that these were and usually remained fringe phenomena, with a modest following.

Now, very large sections of our society have voluntarily chosen to become the modern equivalent of cult followers who embrace a set of fantasyland theories with the absolute, unflinching certainty that they are based on “true facts”. The added corollary is usually that all those who disagree with the believers of a particular “truth” are deemed to be either stupid or evil. In many cases, they are portrayed as archenemies to be fought and neutralized.

A political view of Covid -19

An interesting example of this immersion in fantasyland is in the different way in which Americans, depending on their political orientations, look today at the still unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

What? Are there political views on the nature of the virus that caused this unprecedented health crisis? Yes, there are. And they are not confined to issues on which there can be legitimate policy disagreements; such as: how much money should be spent on testing, on emergency care, or on the development of a vaccine, who should be in charge of this and that, and the like. No, the disagreement is much more profound. it is about the nature of the disease, ans therefore on how dangerous it is, and what sorts of precautions individuals should take.

According to the website The Bulwark, here is the summary of views on the pandemic held by many (albeit not all) Republicans:

  • Less than half of Republicans believe that COVID-19 is a major threat to public health.
  • 63 percent of Republicans say that the extent of the coronavirus is exaggerated.
  • A quarter of the public thinks that the pandemic is the result of a planned conspiracy.
  • 40 percent of Republicans say COVID-19 is no more deadly than the flu.
  • 50 percent of Republicans say the COVID-19 death toll is an exaggeration.
  • 23 percent of Republicans say masks should be worn “rarely” or “never.”

Just to pick one item from this list of truly bizarre beliefs, I do not believe that many in the medical profession would seriously argue today that Covid-19 is more or less as dangerous as the flu. Sure enough, in many cases it looks like the flu. Its symptoms are similar, and the affected patients may experience only some temporary discomfort. But we also know that the mortality of Covid-19 is much, much higher than the flu, 52 times higher according to some calculations. Besides, as of now there is no Covid-19 vaccine; whereas flu vaccines that can prevent or at least mitigate the flu symptoms do exist. Hence the covid-induced lockdowns, and the various public health measures aimed at preventing, or at least minimizing, coronavirus contagion.

So, here we go. Medical experts say something based on empirical evidence. But a segment of the population prefers to believe others who provide an entirely different analysis. The medical experts wonder how is it possible that so many Americans would hold views that are contradicted by the known facts. But they do it anyway.

Green America within reach in no time

On the other side of the political divide, we have some segments within the Democratic Party who talk about their plans to make America Green in just 15 years as a perfectly reasonable, practical and cost effective plan. They honestly believe that it is possible to transform the entire power generation and distribution system and most industries in America, the largest economy on Earth, within a relatively short period of time, with no downside and no meaningful discomfort for a nation of more than 330 million people.

And yet recent developments, such as the California blackouts caused by significant supply problems caused by deployed, and as yet imperfect, renewable electricity prove that going green, itself a worthwhile goal, will require significantly improved technologies that as of now are not available on any scale. And yet the believers dismiss this “fact”. They see no problem in implementing this fantasy based on the “fact” that we already have what it takes to engineer this most dramatic transformation. The only people who see problems –so argue the believers– are those who want to derail the green agenda, because they represent the vested interests of the fossil fuels industry and their lobbyists. So, even here the opponents of “the truth” are essentially enemies.

Private universes

Well, here we are. It is a fact that large segments of our society now live in their own self-sufficient, private universes that have no interest in engaging others holding different views. They are completely impervious to fact based evidence that may contradict their beliefs. They believe what they want to believe, and proclaim that to be the facts-based truth.

There are still some pragmatists, for now

The only positive element in all this is that there still are some Americans who try to understand what the facts related to any issue or problem are. They genuinely seek to find common sense-based agreement on feasible solutions for real issues. And these people try to build coalitions and partnerships in order to advance real world practical solutions. And this is good. But it looks that the armies of the sectarian believers are growing. If this phenomenon does not stop, if the sectarians end up dominating the political and policy environment, we may face a real national crisis relatively soon.

This American Republic is founded on the (fantasy?) assumption that most citizens are generally reasonable people who will naturally seek common ground with others in order to address real life issues that affect the broader society. If this is no longer true, if we are just a bunch of warring sects proclaiming mutually exclusive “truths”, it is hard to understand how our system of government based on compromise and reaching out to others can survive.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




An Already Sick Nation Crushed By Coronavirus

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – We now know that most of the Americans who need to be hospitalized and eventually die on account of coronavirus are elderly (and sometimes middle-aged) people already in poor health who often must take medications that have the negative side effect of weakening their immune system. In other words, those who are already sick or in poor health–and there are millions in America– are the primary coronavirus targets and, sadly, often the victims.

Sick people are coronavirus victims

Oversimplifying a bit, this horrible coronavirus pandemic exposes the inconvenient reality that America, over time, has become a nation of people in mediocre or poor health. Millions, senior citizens in particular, are affected by chronic diseases. They are propped up by multiple medications aimed at lessening the health impact of various maladies. It is very clear that already unhealthy people, often on various medications that often suppress the body’s immunity, are the primary victims of this virus.

Regarding the overall health conditions of seniors citizens in America, according to some health care experts, this is just the way it is. Old people get sick, and doctors help them by prescribing medicines that help them live longer. This is the best that we can do in dealing with an aging population.

Old and healthy

Well, guess what, it does not have to be this way! No, it is not true that when you go past 60 years your general health conditions inevitably start to decline and you fall prey, as a matter of course, to a variety of diseases that naturally come with old age. This is simply not true.

Many physicians, gerontologists, nutrition and physical exercise experts for years have been telling us what most of us do not like to hear. Most of us can stay reasonably healthy even as we age, provided that we diligently follow basic nutrition and exercise habits. Of course, we are not immortal, and we shall get sick. But if we do take good care of ourselves we shall live a longer and reasonably healthy life.

Bad habits, sick people

A few years ago I read a book (one out of many on this subject) titled “Younger Next Year”. One of the co-authors, Dr. Henry S. Lodge, is a geriatric care physician. He was prompted to co-write this book after having observed how the overall health conditions of his patients deteriorated massively and almost suddenly after they hit 60. For most of them, it was not a gentle slope. It was an almost catastrophic and rapid decline, with multiple diseases taking over, followed by death.

It did not take him very long to realize that most of his suddenly sick patients had embraced in their younger years unhealthy lifestyles whose cumulative outcome as they entered old age was a fragile immune system, and the propensity to develop often fatal cardiovascular diseases, not to mention type 2 diabetes, with all its negative consequences, and other ailments.

Good nutrition and exercise will do it

This book does not sell the silly idea that we can stay magically young and healthy forever. We do get old, and therefore we do become more fragile, and eventually we die. But we can stay healthy as we age. We can avoid maladies resulting from unhealthy or outright destructive personal habits. We can and should eat healthy food and engage in regular, moderate exercise as a way to stay healthy and fit. The critical thing is to embrace sooner rather than later a healthy lifestyle regime and stick to it.

Advice not followed

Sadly, despite this book and many others advising us on how to stay reasonably healthy even as we age, most Americans do not follow this guidance. And the cumulative result of bad personal habits pursued by millions, when it comes to nutrition and exercise, are well known.

Our overall national health statistics are pretty horrible. We are the developed country that spends by far the most on health care –about 18% of GDP, almost double what other rich countries spend. But we have very little to show for this massive expenditure, much of it going to treat millions affected by chronic (and for the most part, avoidable) diseases.

Our life expectancy is mediocre, and actually declining. A staggering 30% of Americans (that is about 100 million people) are obese or overweight. It is well known that obesity (a self-inflicted wound in most cases) is the precursor to cardiovascular diseases, type two diabetes, and more.

What’s the connection with coronavirus?

Well, what’s the connection between all this and the severe impact of coronavirus in America in terms of large numbers of hospitalizations and death? Very simple. We know that this virus (as well as others) finds particularly fertile ground in people whose immune systems have already been degraded or compromised by chronic illnesses and/or medications that suppress some critically important immune functions. Sadly, on account of the way we chose to live, millions of Americans today fit this profile. Hence the large number of hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths during this coronavirus pandemic.

Wellness is prevention

I am not suggesting here that if we, as a nation, had started following decades ago the advice provided by so many wellness experts about the benefits of healthy nutrition and regular exercise, we would not have a coronavirus pandemic, at this time. We would still have it.

However, I am suggesting that this epidemic would have been far less severe, with far fewer hospitalizations and deaths; simply because many, many more elderly (and also younger) Americans would have been in basic good or at least better health, with much stronger immune systems, and therefore better able to fight the virus.

Wellness practices are not about long life magic potions. They are about learning how to take good care of ourselves following the advice given to us by experts who know what it takes to preserve our bodies and the natural immunity defenses that a healthy system creates.

Public Health Officials need to teach how to stay in good health

Needless to say, none of this matters right now, as we are in the middle of the pandemic. But I sincerely hope that, as soon as all this will be over and we will be able to calm down, all our Public Health Authorities will do their very best to explain to the Nation that staying in good health matters –a lot.

There are other diseases. There will be other pandemics. Lacking proven medications and/or vaccines, a healthy body with good immunity is and will continue to be our best defense. And remember that there is no vaccine against obesity. What you choose to eat, every day, will determine your weight and eventually your health.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




How Can We Prepare For The Next Pandemic?

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – Belatedly, all countries, including the most advanced, decided to adopt quarantines and “social distancing” as the only effective methods to slow down and hopefully stop the coronavirus contagion.

Better than doing nothing

While this is way better than doing nothing, it is somewhat disheartening that today –in the year 2020– the only contagion prevention tool in our tool box is the quarantine — a contagion prevention measure first employed as official public health policy by the Republic of Venice in 1347, during the Black Plague.

Quarantines are old remedies

Indeed, the English term “quarantine“, comes from the Venetian “quarantena“, a slight modification from the Italian “quarantina” which simply means “forty days“. At the time, Venice was already a major international port. In today’s terms, we would call the thriving maritime republic a Global Commerce Hub.

Venice depended entirely on commerce. It could not stop it, because it was the source of its gigantic wealth. But the Venetians did not want to be killed by epidemics brought in by sailors either. Therefore, the Venetian government during the 1347 Plague epidemic instituted the policy of isolating arriving ships and crews for forty days, (“the quarantine”), because they had realized that sailors and traders coming from foreign lands carried deadly diseases.

Dedicated hospitals

Well, guess what, quarantines worked, at least to some extent. Indeed, the Venetian example was soon adopted by other major port cities in the Mediterranean and beyond. The Venetians also were first in creating ad hoc health facilities for those who carried infectious diseases. Passengers coming from places known to have infections were forced to move to the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth, known as “Nazarethum”, that soon became known as “Lazzaretto”, or “Lazareth”. Besides, the Venetians created high level magistrates, called Public Health Procurators, whose job was the enforcement of the public health measures on which the very survival of the Republic depended.

Prevent diseases from crossing land borders

Later on, The Habsburg Empire created a massive system of military garrisons and fortifications along its long border with the Ottoman Empire. This system included dedicated spaces in the border areas whose main purpose was to quarantine anybody crossing into the Austrian Empire. The quarantine rules were clear and inflexible. Breaking them resulted in summary execution.

We had nothing

Well, fast forward to the present coronavirus epidemic, and we immediately realize that we are –belatedly and often half-heartedly– picking up the same anti-contagion tools first developed several hundreds years ago by the Venetians… simply because….we have nothing else!

Sadly, Western medicine has been blindsided by its own great successes. We defeated TB, smallpox, polio, and more. We have developed vaccines and treatments. We have antibiotics and what not. Therefore, somewhat superficially, we believed that we had won the infectious diseases war. Nothing more to worry about.

Bill Gates’ warnings

Strong warnings, such as the one articulated by Bill Gates in 2015 after the Ebola crisis in West Africa, were ignored. Gates did say –loud and clear– that Ebola was a Red Flag. A major pandemic coming to the US was a distinct possibility. And he did also say that we needed to prepare by creating early warning systems and well coordinates response mechanisms (including stockpiles of medical equipment) and the teams to manage them. He also suggested that the response mechanisms had to include a prominent role for the military.

Yes, Bill Gates did say all this, back in 2015.

Well, nobody paid any attention. Look, if we had listened to Gates and others who also warned about possible pandemics we could not have avoided this coronavirus pandemic, simply because, to date, we have no proven cure and no vaccine.

However, we could have dealt with this massive emergency in a smarter and much more efficient way, most likely saving many lives that have been lost simply because we were caught off guard. We know now that we had no system to quickly detect coronavirus virus carriers, so that they could be promptly isolated.

Taiwan has a system

The case of Taiwan’s public health early warning system proves this point. Taiwan learnt its painful lesson from a previous major public health scare. In the aftermath of SARS in 2003, (another deadly respiratory disease originating from China), Taiwan created a sophisticated early detection system, with dedicated professionals supervising it.

As soon as the Taiwanese authorities realized that something abnormal was happening in Mainland China at the end of 2019, they activated all their systems. Well, it may not be perfect; but Taiwan managed to quickly identify all or most coronavirus infected people, so that they could be promptly isolated, before they could spread the virus. But Taiwan could do all this only because it could activate a robust medical response mechanism it had spent years to create.

Guess what: prevention works!

US was unprepared

Here in the US, the list of what we did not have and of the systems that we could not activate simply because they did not exist is depressingly long. I really hope that this gigantic public health and now economic disaster, partly due to nature and partly due to our complete lack of any meaningful preparedness, will teach us a lesson.

We need reliable early warning

To begin with, the US and the World need much more sophisticated early warning systems. Theoretically, this should be the mission of the World Health Organization, WHO. But the record shows that the WHO is just another lumbering international bureaucracy, rarely ahead of the curve when something major happens. With all the talent in IT, superfast Supercomputers, Artificial Intelligence and indeed medical science that we have across the globe, setting up better early warning and crisis management systems is just a matter of will and coordination. We have the tools. Let’s organize them in a productive fashion.

New York City is under resourced?

Along similar lines, governments should create stockpiles of medical tools and related distribution systems that could be quickly mobilized in an emergency. It is a disgrace that New York City, the World’s financial capital, did not have the emergency facilities that could be quickly set up, along with all the medical devices necessary to deal with a sudden epidemic.

Emergency facilities are now springing up almost everywhere in the US. And this is good. This activism proves that America is resilient. However, we can no longer afford to be good only at reacting. We must learn to be proactive.

Yes, investing billions of dollars in facilities and supplies that may or may not be called into action sounds like a waste of money. And yet, if we look at the colossal economic damage caused by the need to shut everything down in order to stop contagion, all of a sudden, investing even a few hundreds billions in preventative measures looks truly cost-effective.

Those governments that lack the economic means to set emergency stockpiles should be connected to a global network that would immediately spring into action and deliver medical assistance where needed.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




America Unprepared To Deal With A Pandemic

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – For very understandable reasons, millions of Americans are now focused on the progress of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic and on any assessments/prognostications about its virulence and ability to expand in a significant way beyond China.

Low threat

As of now, nothing much has happened in the US. The only known cases of coronavirus are related to very few individuals who contracted the disease while in Wuhan. In one case, the husband of a woman who got infected while visiting China got it from her after she returned. Not surprising.

So, no reason for panic, it seems.

Bad practices when it comes to basic hospital hygiene

True. for the moment at least, we are not facing any coronavirus emergency, here in the US. However, as some noted experts in epidemics have indicated, this potential crisis should be a wake up call to face the reality of the grossly inadequate prevention practices that prevail in most American hospitals.

When it comes to basic hygiene, most US health facilities do not follow elementary precautions, and so hospitals have become the breeding ground for viruses and deadly bacteria. It may sound crazy, but, according to the data, about 70,000 Americans die every year because of diseases contracted while in the hospital. And this –let me stress– occurs under “normal” circumstances, without the pressure and confusion caused by a sudden pandemic.

Tragic but preventable

Think of that. This is tragic. But almost completely preventable, assuming the adoption of and compliance with basic prevention and safety protocols. I have no idea as to why health authorities, hospital managers and other senior people in charge of medical care in America are not doing much to reverse this awful state of affairs.

This is not rocket science. This is about making sure that, while in the hospital, patients are properly isolated, so that they will not communicate potentially deadly pathogens to medical personnel and other patients. This is rather elementary. And yet, somehow, it is not done –at least not done on the scale that would be necessary.

For sure, adopting known best practices can be onerous, expensive, and time consuming. You have to create special “airtight” facilities within hospitals. You have to make sure that all relevant health care workers wear protective suites, masks, goggles, and what not, all the time. Yes, this is onerous; but it is the only way we know to prevent the spreading of pathogens within hospitals. It is a sad irony that patients may be and are indeed killed by diseases contracted in the place they went to in the hope and expectation to be healed.

We focus on Wuhan coronavirus, but we ignore basic protocols

So, here is the thing. For the time being, here in America no real threat from the mysterious Wuhan coronavirus, even though the spread of this novel disease is continuing, and therefore we should stay on the alert. This is relatively good news.

However, the ongoing and well documented tragedy of tens of thousands of Americans dying unnecessarily, year after year, because of carelessness and lack of proper hygiene in hospitals across America is a scandal that is essentially ignored.

We are unprepared for a major outbreak

Quite clearly, assuming that nothing or just a little will be done to improve the basic prevention/hygiene conditions within our hospitals, should we face a real health emergency like a virulent pandemic, we would be in real trouble.

Lacking adequate isolation facilities, overwhelmed “dirty” hospitals would become places of contagion, rather than cure. I really hope that all those in charge note all this and start taking action.

Given the state of most of our hospitals, we are not prepared to face a pandemic. Our national disease control policy cannot be just the hope of being lucky.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Millions Can Hardly Get By In Full Employment America

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Especially if compared to barely alive, anemic Europe, America’s GDP and employment growth rates look absolutely sensational. As always, even if there is little or no justification, the incumbent president (Donald Trump in this case) takes all the credit, witness his recent Davos speech.

Millions US workers make very little

However, if we look under the hood, the picture is far, far less attractive. In a recent Letter to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, (January 23, 2020), Martha Ross, an economist who works at the prestigious Brookings Institution, a major Washington, DC think tank, pointed out that “53 million Americans –44% of workers aged 18-64– earn low wages, with median earnings of $ 10.22”. Got that? 44% of US workers make a little more than $ 10 an hour. And, Martha Ross adds, these are not just kids starting out in life using low wage jobs as entry points into the labor force. These are ordinary adults, folks trying to make a living.

Insignificant wages growth

Sure enough, it is a good thing to note real, inflation adjusted, wage growth. However, as Martha Ross points out in her letter, this growth means that for non supervisory retail workers the bump amounts to an increase from an average of $ 16.28 an hour to $ 16.81. Not exactly a sensational jump.

Here is the thing. A single adult, with no children or other dependents, may be able to get by with such meagre earnings. But a family cannot. As Ross concludes: “Despite a recent uptick in wages and a low unemployment rate, tens of millions of Americans earn barely enough to live on”.

Indeed. And this is a national tragedy; even though not talked about much because the overall picture looks rosy. The US economy is growing at more than 2% a year, the stock market jumps from record to record, there is hardly any inflation, and the unemployment rate is at 3.5%, a historic low.

Low wages tied to bad education

So, why is it that in the midst of a booming economy millions of Americans are paid so little? One of the reason must be that millions of Americans can compete only for low paying jobs because they have no marketable skills since they received a truly bad or mediocre education. Sadly, our American public schools system is a disaster. This has been proven time and again through countless domestic and international academic tests.

Sure enough, America can be proud of being home to many excellent private schools and most of the top ranked private universities. However, these prestigious institutions are accessible only to the wealthy and the super gifted who may receive merit scholarships. For sure, these young people, once they graduate, will have access to good or excellent jobs that will launch them into great careers.

All the others, however, the millions who could enroll only in mediocre to bad high schools, combined with all those who did not manage to finish school and obtain a high school degree, get only the scraps. Hence the sharp socio-economic divide and the sad, in fact dramatic, statistics cited by Martha Ross in her letter to the WSJ.

Two tier America

So, here is the thing. For all practical purposes, we have two separate countries here in America. In the upper tier, young people receive a good or excellent education. Armed with that, they can aspire to highly rewarding careers.

In the lower tier we find instead the unlucky ones who were stuck in inner cities and did not have access to a good or even decent education. In fact, many of them, even those who received a high school diploma, received almost no real education. And the unlucky ones in this lower tier tend to be mostly minorities and poor.

Which is to say that in our America, the country that used to be admired across the world as an “open access to all society” and for its “upward mobility”, nowadays “birth is destiny”, just like in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Indeed in today’s America, if you were born poor, in a bad neighborhood, your chances of getting the education you need to climb the socio-economic ladder are close to zero. Therefore, even in a growing economy with full employment, millions can only get dead-end jobs that pay a bit more than $ 10 an hour.

This is a national disgrace.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Bad Human Behavior Is The New Killer Disease

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – When it comes to taking care of our health, we Americans are really going backwards –in a most spectacular way! We are now well into an era in which by far the main enemy of our health and therefore of the opportunity to live a mostly disease free, long life, are no longer untreatable viruses or bacteria. NO, IT IS US.

We are killing ourselves

Yes, we are slowly killing ourselves. And the silent killers are the terrible dietary habits millions of Americans have mindlessly embraced over the last few decades, (eating and drinking way too much bad stuff), and zero exercise. The manifestation of these truly bad habits are well known. I am talking about our gigantic –and worsening– obesity epidemic, the consequent explosion of type two diabetes and the various ailments caused by this debilitating, chronic disease.

In a nutshell, we are killing ourselves because –as a Nation– we have adopted a horrible diet and no exercise as our norms. The cumulative effect of these terrible habits practiced by millions over many decades is deteriorating health, (more cardiovascular afflictions, more hypertension), for tens of millions of Americans. Of course, these chronic conditions get worse as we age. And If you add to the mix the serious crisis caused by various addictions, (drugs, smoking, alcohol), America –a rich, well resourced country– is getting close to a basket case.

We spend a fortune on health care

And all this is happening notwithstanding the stupendous amount of money the US spends on health care. Indeed, America has the odd record of spending double what other rich countries spend on health, (about 18% of GDP, a staggering amount), with truly mediocre if not bad health statistics when it comes to incidence of chronic diseases and declining life expectancy. (At a little above 79 years, US life expectancy is very close to Cuba, Portugal and Albania).

Science defeated many diseases

As I said, when it comes to our health as a society, we are really going backwards. Think about it. The 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century were all about understanding and then successfully fighting deadly bacteria and viruses that were at the source of often incurable maladies. Finally, cures and vaccines were discovered that could successfully fight back smallpox, tuberculosis, sifilis, pneumonia, and polio.

Public health standards

Closer to our times it became routine, first in developed countries and then progressively elsewhere, to have massive immunization programs, so that infants and children would be protected from many potentially lethal infectious diseases. Furthermore, basic norms of cleanliness were identified and and then taught, such as frequent hand washing with soap, refrigerating perishable food items, and rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them.

At the same time, authorities understood the importance of public hygiene. They started providing treated, clean water to households. They built modern sewage treatment plants, along with modern trash removal services, so that urban waste would not become the breeding ground for bacteria and vermin (such as rats) that could carry and spread disease.

Major victories

These are major victories. Vaccinations, immunizations, the availability of antibiotics, combined with vastly improved standards aimed at safeguarding public health, cut down infant mortality and allowed millions of adults to live longer, healthier lives.

If we fast forward to today, for sure thousands of dedicated scientists keep working on major medical issues, such as various forms of cancer, dementia, Alzheimer, and a plethora of genetic ailments. And this is good. Much, much more needs to be discovered and understood.

US health is declining

That said, if we look at broad US health statistics, we see an enormous paradox. As I said, we conquered major diseases a long time ago. And America spends literally a fortune on various forms of health care delivery, almost double the average of what is devoted to health in other affluent societies. And yet the overall health conditions of the American populace are actually declining on account of the epidemic proportions of ailments such as obesity and type two diabetes caused not by mysterious germs but only by our bad personal habits.

In other words, our declining health is totally self-inflicted.

We know the problem

The sad fact is that everybody with a modicum of education knows exactly why we are dealing with these epidemics. It is all about over eating bad stuff, (mostly processed food, sodas, and too many fatty, sugary snacks), combined with too much alcohol, and lack of even a modicum of physical exercise in our daily routines. And if you add to this already toxic mix millions of Americans addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, and a large variety of drugs, you have the paradoxical picture of a wealthy, reasonably well educated society that is also very sick. This is the really bad news.

It is all rooted in bad habits

But the good news is that this catastrophic deterioration of the overall health conditions of millions of Americans is not about bad luck. It is rooted in our freely adopted BAD HABITS. Habits are not genetic. We learn them, and then we adopt them. And this means that given proper guidance and education, once we realize how toxic these habits are, we can ditch them and embrace new, healthy ones.

Yes, it really is as simple as that. We became accustomed to unhealthy processed foods. We drink rivers of sugary sodas. We eat too much junk food which is mostly fat, sugar and salt. Most of us do not exercise at all. I am not sure how these habits came to be embraced. But is is time to get rid of them. And it is quite possible, even though doing so will require an extensive, focused public education campaign, starting with children, and quite a bit of self-discipline.

Yes, ditching bad habits is a major challenge

I fully recognize that changing the entrenched bad habits of millions of Americans looks too big a task, in fact an impossibility.

And yet it is doable.

We can all learn what a healthy diet is, and then embrace it as our new habit. There is nothing magic or mysterious about it. Fruits and vegetables are good for you. Snack food is not. Plain water is good for you. Green tea is good for you. Sugary sodas are not. Furthermore, once we understand the horrible long-term consequences of a sedentary life, we can all engage in some form of exercise, (walking just 30 minutes a day can be a life changing new habit for mostly sedentary people).

As I said, unless we ditch our truly bad habits, we are slowly killing ourselves, while we waste billions of dollars every year treating mostly preventable diseases that we inflicted on ourselves.

Are you telling me that we cannot do better than that?




Good Values at the Root of Utah’s Success

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – A recent article pointed out how, year after year, Utah is on top of the national list of the best states to do business in America, not to mention that the state gets very high marks on good governance; while in Utah there is very low unemployment, lower than the historically low national average of 3.5%. And in Utah kids attending public schools on average do rather well compared to the rest of the U.S., notwithstanding the fact that in Utah spending per pupil is quite below the national average. Well, what is the secret of this success?

Nothing special about Utah

There is absolutely nothing special about this Western landlocked state. Sure, there are mountains, and parks and a great deal of pristine nature. But this natural beauty is not at the foundation of Utah’s growth, and therefore it cannot explain sustained prosperity. And yet, year after year, Utah stays on top of many significant national rankings dealing with easiness to do business, governance, quality of life, and more.

The secret is the people and their values

Well, here is the reason: the people of Utah. Yes, the people of Utah and their values. We know that most people in Utah are Mormons, (62%). Whatever your opinion about this rather mysterious religion, we know that this faith strongly promotes values of thrift, frugality, sobriety, honesty and charitable giving. Could this –deeply held values that promote best practices in education, business and government– be the ingredients of Utah’s secret sauce? I think so. The spiritual values held by many Utah’s citizens do indeed have a beneficial impact on the society they built.

So, there you have it. Sustained economic growth and good governance reinforce each other, and both of them are the byproduct of good values sincerely embraced by the people.

No proprietary economic development strategies

Utah’s, “economic miracle” is not the outcome of following sophisticated, complex investment and economic development strategies, or proprietary computer generated models developed by a team of management super gurus.

The truth is disarmingly simple. Values that hold in high regard a good education, entrepreneurship, honesty, hard work, frugality and lean but effective government inspire productive, honest behavior and good public administration. And all this eventually translates into prosperity.

“You mean, that’s it?”

Yes, that’s it.




No Action on Failing US Public Schools

by Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – For many years we have been debating the sorry state of US public education: too many drop outs, large percentages of high school graduates who cannot read or count, and how education could and should be improved. Alas, there has been and there is much talk –and very little remedial action.

No accountability

Nationwide, the public schools sector seems to belong to a different universe, a universe in which professionalism, the pursuit of academic excellence, merit-based pay and promotions for teachers, accountability, and cost-effectiveness are unknown concepts.  

Awful record in Colorado

Below, you can look at yet another illustration of this catastrophic failure that essentially condemns students educated in bad schools to a life of under achievement. (Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2019)

In Colorado, not a poor under resourced state, most high school students perform well below grade. Many of them cannot pass a simple test that would allow them to join the Army. This is simply outrageous. But you do not hear any public outcry.

The children of the elites are taken care of

Here is my theory about this general indifference on the part of all American elites regarding this colossal societal failure when it comes to educating so many of our kids –and these are mostly poor kids.

The truth is that the children of key policy-makers, at all levels, in most cases do have access to quality education. As they normally live in good areas, they can enroll in higher quality public schools. If these are not available, they can always go to charter schools or private schools. In other words, their parents are reassured that their kids will get a good or even superior high school education, itself the ticket to a good university and eventually a rewarding, well remunerated career. The children of the American elites are taken care of.

And what about all the others? The others, oh well the others will go to the regular (bad to failing) public schools. They will graduate (those who do) with minimal skills and knowledge, while they will often be functionally illiterate, as the Letter to the Editor reproduced below illustrates.  

From: Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2019

“Regarding Baker A. Miller’s “The
Smear Campaign Against Charters” (op-ed, Aug. 14): Last week our state test
results were released here in Colorado:
Only 45.8% of our students read at grade level, and only 34.7% can do math at
grade level.”
[Bold
added]

“These results have changed little
over the last 20 years. This is noteworthy because our current governor, Jared
Polis, worked to pass an amendment to the state constitution in 2000 that
required education spending to increase at the rate of inflation plus 1% every
year. This should put to rest the notion that more money is the answer. No
doubt we will hear the usual calls for increased funding of public education,
but even if we gave the system a billion dollars tomorrow, it wouldn’t know
what to do with the money.”

“I own a remedial-education business
and have lost count of the number of students I’ve taught who hold high-school
diplomas from the Denver and Aurora Public Schools systems but are functionally
illiterate and innumerate. Many want to join the military but can’t pass the
entrance exam (the ASVAB). It’s official—the academic standards required to
join the Army are higher than those needed to earn a Colorado high-school
diploma.”

“Isn’t it high time we moved this
incompetence from the realm of the merely scandalous to the specifically
criminal? What’s to stop U.S. attorneys around the country from filing RICO
[The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act] charges against school
boards, superintendents and union officials? If there’s a bigger racket than
public education in the U.S., I’m unaware of it.”

(Signed) Nate Braden, Denver www.wsj.com

Criminal conspiracy?

The author of this sad letter suggests that all the players involved in this public education drama are in fact members of a criminal conspiracy. Of course, this should not be taken literally. However, the enduring gap between education standards and disastrous outcomes at the very least indicates irresponsibility and neglect.

America is now a two tier society

And this neglect has and will have horrible consequences for our country. Because of this public education disaster, America’s leaders, wittingly or unwittingly, are creating a two tier society. The top tier belongs to the well educated and affluent who have the means and the opportunity to educate their children, so that they will earn good degrees leading to great careers and well rewarded employment.

The bottom tier is for everybody else. The children of the poor and lower middle classes cannot afford private education. Higher quality charter schools may not be available in their areas. And so they are stuck with bad or failing schools where they will learn little or nothing.

Birth is destiny

And we should all be clear as to the implications of all this. In this super charged, hyper competitive knowledge economy, there is no chance to land a good job without a good or superior education.

Sadly, all this means that in America now “birth is destiny” –just like in many poor countries, with rigid barriers that prevent upper mobility. Indeed, in today’s America –the exceptional country once upon a time known as The Land of Opportunity— if you were born poor and live in a bad area, your chances of getting a good education –the essential tool to move up in life– are practically zero.

This being the case, you will spend your life in the bottom tier. Hard work alone will not allow you to climb the socio-economic ladder. Now, and even more so in the future, in order to make it, young people need increasingly sophisticated knowledge. If they do not acquire it while in school, the chances of getting it later on through other means are slim.