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.




Wanted: A Coronavirus Manhattan Project

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Regarding coronavirus, so far public policy in most Western countries focused on monetary and fiscal interventions. They are aimed at mitigating the disastrous economic impact of the government-mandated freezing of most activities and people to people interactions in order to stop contagion. But it should be clear to all that even vast amounts of money thrown at the US and other major economies will not be enough to stabilize a catastrophic situation caused by the “closing down”, for an indefinite period, of most advanced countries.

The limits of economic stimulus

A giant stimulus package, no matter how big, is at best only temporary relief. By now, we begin to understand that trying to save lives by shutting everything down is causing and will cause catastrophic economic devastation.

With virtually “everything” closed, millions of American workers are suddenly out of a job. Furthermore, in the US thousands of shaky companies, kept alive (before this pandemonium began) by low interest loans, will go bankrupt. Without any income, they are unable to meet their payments obligations to banks and bondholders. And when they go under, sadly they will bring down with them managers, workers and their families, shareholders, creditors, suppliers and more. The oil sector, battered by the global slowdown, is now on life support due to crude at $ 25 per barrel or less, the result of the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. And this is just a partial list.

Focus on a cure

So, since we need to keep the drastic people movement restrictions in order to prevent contagion and government-delivered economic relief is not enough, what else can be done?

Well, invest more –much more– where the solution to this crisis will be eventually found: in the laboratories and research facilities where scientists are already busy trying to find a cure and a vaccine for the illness caused by this coronavirus. I am sure that much is being done. But, we simply need to do more. May be much more.

Issuing checks to battered US unemployed workers and credit guarantees to companies in trouble provides important but only temporary relief. Investing the same money, or larger sums, in state of the art research aimed at finding a vaccine and/or cure for this coronavirus is a much smarter policy.

We need a Manhattan Project for coronavirus

We need an “All Hands on Deck” approach to this pandemic. We need a medical equivalent of the Manhattan Project, the secret American effort to develop an atomic bomb during WWII. The Manhattan Project probably looked like a fool’s errand at the time. The task was: invent something new and revolutionary, all on the basis of theories lacking any empirical verification. Some who knew about the secret program viewed it as a fantasy, a waste of time and money.

And yet, it worked!

While the Manhattan Project was about destruction, not saving lives, the use of the bomb secretly developed by the Manhattan Projects scientists against Japan resulted in an immediate ending of the war in the Pacific. This way, millions of lives were saved. The alternative would have been a US landing in Japan and then an enormous military undertaking leading to the conquest of the entire country, inch by inch, through a bloody fight against an enemy that would simply not let go.

A medical call to arms

Simply stated, today we need a “Manhattan Project equivalent”, a historic medical call to arms. As we engage in this massive undertaking, we should be comforted by the fact that, unlike the Manhattan Project scientists who were trying to invent something entirely new, we already have extremely valuable resources in the US and other Western countries.

Indeed, nowadays, we have great scientific talent in America, Europe, and Asia. There are thousands of skilled researchers, state of the art laboratories, sophisticated research tools and futuristic technologies unimaginable only a few years ago.

A clear statement from the top

What we urgently need now is a clear message from the President of the United States and all key policy-makers around the world: finding a cure is the number one priority. Key world leaders need to reassure all the capable scientists who are already working on coronavirus research that they will get all the support they will need.

“This is a global emergency. No red tape or delays. You will get –now– whatever you may need in terms of extra funding, additional staff, new equipment, shared platforms and what not, in order to facilitate and expedite your extremely valuable work”.

A well funded and properly coordinated effort, with easy exchange of findings, data and all relevant information among scientists in different countries, would constitute a modern equivalent of the Manhattan Project. Much of the critical research and experimentation work on the coronavirus is well underway. But policy-makers should elevate this critically important effort to the very top of the national and indeed global agenda, while providing all the assistance that may be required.

We shall prevail

I just cannot believe that with all the existing human and technological resources –if properly funded and coordinated– we shall not be able to find a cure that will beat this virus. Of course, we do not know the timeline. It may take a few months, or may be longer. But this is the way to go. We are way too smart to be confined to a public health policy option that prescribes killing all the Western economies in order to save lives.

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.




The Coronavirus Recession and Elections

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – After a rather bad start, President Donald Trump is now doing a much better job in his efforts to convince America that his administration is doing all what is necessary to contain the coronavirus epidemic, while reducing its adverse impact on the US economy.

Economic measures

Some economic measures aimed at alleviating the damage and the stress to companies and workers seem appropriate. However, you can bet anything that the initial testing fiasco will be pointed out by Joe Biden and all Democrats between now and November as clear evidence of Trump’s incompetence at a time of a great national crisis.

As things will probably get worse, with more economic damage caused by the disruptions to normal activities inevitably following the coronavirus containment measures, (flights canceled, sports events, conventions and shows canceled, schools closed and more), can Trump blame the inevitable US economic recession on an uncontrollable epidemic? Will he be able to argue –convincingly– that he did all the right things, at the right time against this emergency? Will worried, if not panicky, Americans believe him?

Trump will get low grades

I doubt on Trump getting good grades on his coronavirus crisis handling. Of course the severity of the judgement will really depend on how long this epidemic will linger. Still, if we go into the November elections as the US economy is still caught in a downdraft, while the US health system is overwhelmed, or worse paralyzed by too many sick patients arriving at the same time, this is really bad news for President Trump. No matter what, at elections time, blaming the incumbent for whatever is going wrong in America is the knee-jerk reaction.

On the other hand, if the worst will soon be over, and the public will see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, then Trump may have a better chance at getting re-elected. But it will not be easy.

Not a popular President

Indeed, let’s not forget that this is not a popular President. Even while the economy was doing very well, with GDP growth at 2.5% or above, and with the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, Trump’s favorables never –I repeat never– went above 50%.

Of course, we know that this President has a large and fiercely loyal core group of strong supporters. They are and will be with him –no matter what. But, as important as these supporters are, they are not the majority of America’s voters, not even close.

Return to normalcy

If Joe Biden, (assuming here that eventually he will get the Democratic Party nomination), will be able to portray himself as the “Uniter“, the seasoned leader who can bring opposing factions together, he may get the nod not just from the Democrats but also from the millions of independents who are now seeking normalcy and a steady hand in Washington.

From this perspective, being part of the much maligned “Washington Establishment” will be a good thing for Biden. He will be able to say that he knows how to work productively with all lawmakers, irrespective of party, as well as many diverse constituencies in order to “get things done” for the American people.

In 2016 Americans opted for an outsider

In 2016 being part of the “Washington Establishment” was a bad stain. Trump emerged from literally nowhere largely on the basis of his starkly different resume. Indeed, he was not a professional politician.

And this is what millions of Americans, disappointed in the performance of the deeply entrenched political class, really liked back then. In Trump they saw the new champion who would upset the Washington self-dealing racket, (“Drain the swamp”), let fresh air in, and make the US Government finally work for the forgotten little guy.

Well, Trump’s got elected on the basis of his promises to do things very differently. But he assembled a mixed record in the execution of his unorthodox agenda. And his relatively low favorables indicate that most Americans, having tried the non politician in 2016, would seriously consider more traditional offerings in 2020.

Low favorables before this crisis

This mood shift back to the center became palpable after Biden regained his Democratic front runner status in the wake of the South Carolina Democratic Party Primary, held before the explosion of the coronavirus pandemic. And Biden’s rise has become irresistible as the country is in a panic. Overall, I believe that this health crisis is helping Biden, not Trump.

Again, remember that Trump’s leadership credentials were already questioned by many before coronavirus hit the US. The messy way things have been handled until recently did not contribute to change the critics’ minds.

The miracle would be to be able to present Trump’s coronavirus response as a Churchillian moment of heroic valor in front of an unprecedented adversity confronting America. I am sure that lots of communications specialists are already working on how to shape this story in order to provide a positive narrative. But somehow I do not believe that it is going to work.

Either way, Trump is in trouble

So, here is the thing. If this coronavirus emergency continues, and possibly gets worse between now and November, then Trump is in real trouble. If it goes away very soon, and America gets back to work, without too much damage to the economy, he is still in trouble on account of his low favorables.

Joe Biden’s moment?

America’s mood changed. No more wrecking balls, please. Many voters now seem to crave consensus builders who can deliver incremental reforms, hopefully with with some measure of bipartisan support.

Gaffe prone, a bit shop worn Joe Biden may not be the ideal champion, but as of now he is the man (almost) the entire Democratic Party is betting on. And, come November, millions of independents will probably agree.

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.




The Economic Damage Of Coronavirus

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – The spreading coronavirus epidemic has already created an enormous challenge for the global economy. This epidemic is caused by an unknown new virus for which human beings have no immunity. For this reason, while this illness is very similar to a seasonal flu, its mortality rate is significantly higher. Hence the global scare.

Widespread restrictions

To date, there are no medical remedies for this new illness. Lacking other remedies, the countermeasures, beginning in China, (where it all started), have focused on lockdowns, quarantines and interruption of travel to and from the regions and countries affected. The goal is to slow down the spreading of the disease. Still, while this may be a sensible prevention policy from a public health standpoint, the economic impact has been devastating. Large parts of the Chinese economy have essentially been frozen by all these restrictions.

Frozen economy in China

Think about it. Lockdown affecting tens of millions of workers means that factories and offices are closed, workers do not work, goods are not produced, orders are not filled. Restaurants and hotels are empty, airlines cannot fly.

This prolonged work stoppage will amount to catastrophic economic losses for China, whose economy –let us keep in mind– was already rather anemic prior to this crisis, in some measure due to the negative impact of the tariffs war with the US.

Economic contagion

And this is not just affecting China. The reality of globalization means that we already have widespread economic contagion, even in countries only mildly affected (so far) by this new disease. Indeed, while relatively unscathed by the epidemic, the US is already suffering economically.

And this why. All US multinationals, and other smaller companies, depend on complex (and, it turns out, very vulnerable) supply chains centered in Asia. As the Chinese economy freezes, many US companies do not get their products delivered, and/or do not get critical parts and components for products assembled in the US. This is costly, and it negatively affected production schedules.

Sectors already affected

Beyond that, certain sectors of the US economy, such as leisure and business travel, hotels and airlines are already affected in a major way due to all the travel restrictions imposed by the authorities.

Furthermore, we can expect that the US oil industry will suffer devastating losses. With industrial production down in Asia, global oil demand collapsed and so did benchmark oil prices. The large and expanding (thanks to shale drilling) US oil industry supports dozens of medium sized companies and tens of thousands of high paying jobs. Many of these jobs are now in jeopardy. If the oil prices slump continues, expect major losses and bankruptcies in the US oil patch.

Additional contagion

The fact that new points of contagion have exploded in South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran worries markets even more. These developments lead all experts to conclude that the coronavirus epidemic is now out of China, and it cannot be contained. Therefore, we should expect more countermeasures in the shape of travel restrictions and lockdown, and consequently additional harm to the global economy. Hence the financial markets panic and the deep losses experienced by Wall Street (the worst since 2008) in the last few days.

The road ahead

If we could have the reassurance that these extreme “Coronavirus Containment Measures”, while severe, were only temporary, then the world economy could adjust, absorb this hit, and get ready to restart soonest.

But the problem is that we do not know how long this epidemic will last. And this allows for the worst scenarios to proliferate. After the 2008 financial crisis exploded, the panic was caused by lack of knowledge regarding the extent of the financial shortfalls. How big were the losses for the banking sector? How many mortgage companies would go under? Who would be capable of surviving? The market panic was largely due to lack of reliable data.

However, the massive liquidity injection by the US Fed into the US economy, combined with massive rate cuts, helped to reassure the markets; and they gradually re-established confidence in the system. After those beneficial interventions, climbing back to normality was certainly painful; but everybody agreed that it was doable.

How long will this last?

In this coronavirus case, there is no clear end game. The health experts have no reassuring answers for this medical emergency. Lacking a cure, keeping infected individuals and areas isolated and blocking altogether travel and events where large numbers of people congregate seems a sensible way to slow down or contain the spread of this virus. The problem is that these prevention measures cause enormous economic losses, as the recent developments in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy clearly indicate.

More contagion, more restrictions

Should the epidemic spread from Italy to the rest of Europe in major way, and from Europe to other parts of the world, assuming similar restrictive policies adopted by additional countries, the economic damage caused by widespread freezing of production and world commerce would be incalculable.

For instance, in Iran, a severely under resourced country, the epidemic most probably cannot be contained. Will the virus travel from there to Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa? Scary scenario; but not impossible.

Without
some good news, such as new data showing a global contagion slowdown and/or the
announcement of a cure or vaccine that could be quickly administered, it is
difficult to see how markets can stabilize and go back to normal.

Last but not least, should the epidemic spread to the US in a major way, (it is already here), all bets are off. If America stops, the world stops.

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.




The EU Will Not Create Its Own Armed Forces

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – French president Emmanuel Macron said it right. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference he argued that “We need a European strategy that renews us and turn us into a strategic political power.” Indeed, there is no reason why Europe should not be a world power.

The EU has a lot of assets

The European Union has a significant size, a large population, (512 million), and the second largest economy in the world, ($ 18 trillion), just a bit behind he US, if we add the GDP of all its member states.

Long gone are the dark days of the beginning of the Cold War, when a destroyed Europe had to rely on American protection, delivered via NATO, to guarantee its own security, vis-a-vis a menacing Russia.

The dark days of the Cold war are over

In 1949, the year NATO was created, Germany was a vanquished and semi-destroyed country. It had lost its eastern provinces, (to Poland), and the Soviet Zone of Occupation had morphed into a separate, and hostile, Communist State under Soviet control. The rest of Europe was also heavily damaged by WWII and fairly poor. Europe needed the security protection that could be provided only by a strong and confident America.

70 years later, we have a completely different scenario. First of all, the Soviet threat vanished with the implosion of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Germany was reunified, and is now the fourth largest world economic power. The rest of Europe has also grown significantly.

There is no European core

So, what’s preventing an economically strong EU from playing a much bigger role on the world stage? Very simple. the European Union has no political core, no clear identity. It is not a federal state with an established identity and a clearly defined national interest for whose protection armed forces have been created and sophisticated diplomacy is used on a daily basis.

The European Union is an unprecedented experiment linking sovereign states that have agreed to surrender some sovereignty to supranational, EU institutions that operate according to rules defined by a complex web of intra-European treaties.

Hard to say what the “European Union” really is. It is certainly much more than a Free Trade Area. But, for sure, it is not a state. Nor is there any agreed upon road map, plan, agreement or anything else that binds members states to create a European Federation at any time.

Macron’s suggestions will go nowhere

This should be enough for anybody to conclude that Macron’s exhortations, while justified in principle, will go absolutely nowhere. Lacking the glue of shared identity and shared destiny, complex associations agreements among sovereign states are just not enough to create a new, major power that will play a significant role on the world scene.

Size, population, GDP and overall development are important prerequisites, of course. And Europe arguably has all of them. But Europe is not a state. There is no democratically elected, centralized, federal European government representing the European people, with the clear and undisputed mandate to define the national interest, while allocating the necessary economic resources to create the armed forces, (along with the command structure), necessary to protect it.

Talk but no actions

Therefore, expect some talk about Macron’s idea of a more assertive Europe. But not much more than that. Sure enough, Macron’s concerns will be addressed in some measure by creating ad hoc committees gathering EU policy-makers, elder statesmen, and military leaders. These committees can and will meet, discuss, propose, and what not. But there is no way that this Europe, as currently configured, will be able to create a sizable EU defense budget, and then field modern, credible armed forces operating under a European Command.

While diminished, NATO is still there

So, is Europe defenseless? Not really.

Europe can still rely, or at least most Europeans hope this, on good old, US-led, NATO. Yes, after all these years, NATO is still there. While most American troops are gone, there are still thousands of U.S. soldiers in Europe, and there is still an impressive infrastructure of old and tested joint NATO commands, regular NATO meetings, NATO military exercises, and an established practice of discussing most Western security issues within the framework of the Alliance.

Of course, the major problem is that NATO, today just like 70 years ago, is mostly a US unilateral security guarantee to Europe. Everybody knows this. Today many question the continuing need for this old Alliance, decades after the end of the Soviet threat that justified its creation. But the truth is that inertia dominates.

NATO is there, so let us keep it, even though there are good reasons to questions its purpose and viability, considering the much reduced defense budgets (and therefore military capabilities) of all its European members.

European defense without NATO

What Macron proposes for the EU is something like a Europe-only NATO, without the US and Canada. Again, nothing wrong with that. A relatively prosperous Europe could and should finally be autonomous and self-sufficient on fundamental security issues.

There is no Europe

Except that there is no Europe, if by “Europe” we mean a strong state, with a legitimate European Government in charge of fundamental issues, including defense and foreign affairs.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that this European Union, with its unelected leaders running armies of bureaucrats, can have the authority and the credibility to raise expensive armies and organize defense strategies under a unified EU Command.

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.




Free Markets, Anybody?

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Let’s be honest. The free markets that we learn about in school do not exist. They never did and never will. What we have instead are very imperfect approximations. What we have, at least in some parts of the Western world, is a declared intention to have a level playing field in which different corporations try their best to offer products and services, without enjoying any special advantages. For this purpose, governments established, (among others), antitrust authorities tasked with the goal of preserving free markets and fair competition.

Gaming the system

But this is an effort, a goal, an aspiration. In reality, most big corporate players do their very best to game the system in their favor. The dark secret of all true blue free market capitalists is that they all aspire to have and keep an impregnable rent position, whereby they will continue to dominate their market sector, hopefully for ever.

In pursuit of this anti-free market goal, US companies and trade associations spend larger and larger amounts of money on Washington, DC-based lobbyists whose only mission is to obtain, via legislation or specially designed regulations, set-asides, tax breaks, quotas, restrictions on imports, and whatever else may make it easier for their clients to protect their market positions and fend off competitors.

A semi-market

Therefore, what we have in America is a semi-market. In many ways there is competition, access and opportunity for new comers to come in and do their best to offer their products and services. But this system is quite imperfect.

And, again, the thriving, in fact almost monstrous, lobbying industry in Washington, DC illustrates how everybody, from dairy farmers to sugar growers, from the auto industry to the film industry, is trying to get special favors from Congress, the Executive Branch and all sorts of regulators, or prevent their competitors from getting them.

Europe pushing champions

That said, it seems that in Europe they are about to take this game up one level. Afraid of losing not just a few battles but the actual war on innovation and competitiveness, the Brussels-based European Union technocratic elites are now dreaming of creating EU Champions in leading tech sectors, (batteries for electric vehicles, telephony, artificial intelligence, robotics, you name it). This will be done by creating partnerships between the private sectors, national governments and EU institutions.

Well, this is a lot more than just lobbying. This is about openly subsidized new conglomerates created for the specific purpose or carving pieces of markets now occupied by American and increasingly Chinese tech giants.

Airbus worked

There is, of course, an illustrious (and remarkably successful) precedent to all this. And this is the Airbus consortium created back in 1970 by the Europeans to compete against America in the critical sector of passenger jets, and more. At the time, US companies dominated world markets. Europe had nothing.

If the intent was to carve a space for European companies, the notion of different companies in different European countries (France, Germany, Britain and Spain), enjoying varying degrees of state aid, being capable of designing, manufacturing, and selling state of the art jetliners for the global market seemed truly preposterous.

Indeed, many skeptics predicted that this Airbus consortium would turn out to be a gigantic waste of time and money. To begin with, the business model seemed most improbable, since it rested on the willingness and ability of various corporate entities located in different countries, with distinct agendas and corporate cultures, to successfully cooperate in a major effort aimed at designing, producing, and selling state of the art jetliners.

Success

Well, surprise! it worked. In fact it worked extremely well. Nowadays, Airbus is the undisputed number one or number two (depending on the year) manufacturer of jetliners. However, Airbus, especially in its early years, managed to survive because, beyond its now undisputed ability to make good airplanes, it enjoyed various subsidies. Could Airbus have survived without them, especially in the difficult early years? May be not.

Of course, Boeing, the US aerospace conglomerate that suffered the most on account of this new, well heeled competitor, cried foul. How can a US private sector company compete against a European conglomerate that benefits from various states aid, while its customers (the airlines) could obtain extremely generous finance terms for purchasing Airbus products?

The Airbus reply was that Boeing enjoys its own subsidies. It gets a lot of business from the US Defense Department. With those profits it can finance its civilian airliners sector.

However, even though there is some truth in the argument that Boeing is not a pure private sector company fighting against many competitors, it is absolutely clear that Airbus could not have been conceived without the massive state subsidies that gave the company the staying power (especially in its early years) it needed in order to consolidate its fragile market positions.

More subsidized consortia in the EU?

So, is the EU idea now to repeat the Airbus formula, extending it to different critical industrial sectors? Can this be done? Will it work? Well, it seems that this is the only idea that might work in Europe. The European private sector, (assuming we can talk about a EU-wide private sector), is just not capable of doing important, ground-breaking things on its own. And this reality has critical implications. Europe is already falling way behind in tech innovation. If nothing happens, the competitiveness war will be lost very soon. Europe will be an industrial backwater.

China, the emerging world economic power, does not have any problems pushing its own national champions, be they state owned enterprises, or nominally private enterprises, (think Huawei), that clearly enjoy special status as favored companies. Clearly China is not a market economy.

Free markets are an abstraction

Alright. The above tells us that truly free markets, with open and unfettered competition, are an abstraction. In varying degrees, everybody is exhibiting rent-seeking behavior. Everybody is trying to game the system via carve-outs, set-asides, protectionism, ad hoc regulations, and other non-tariff barriers in order to keep the competition out, or at least in a disadvantaged position.

More lobbyists in Washington, DC

Comparatively speaking, the US seems a bit better. However, do not expect the armies of Washington, DC lobbyists to disappear any time soon. If anything, they are becoming bigger, more sophisticated, and more expensive. And this is a worrisome trend. We preach free markets. Some politicians may actually believe in them. But corporations currently enjoying a dominant position are not really committed to this idea.

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.




Trivializing Impeachment

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – The Democrats who hold the majority in the US
House of Representatives did their best to present their vote leading to the
start of an impeachment process, potentially leading to the removal of
President Donald Trump from office, as a solemn and sad moment dictated by the
gravity of the charges and the urgency of the constitutional crisis created by
a criminal president.

Solemn moment

With solemn voices accompanied by serious demeanor they told the nation that
while impeaching Trump is the last thing they wanted to do, they simply “had
to”
. The gravity of the situation left them no choice. They recognize
the profound implications of this move. They are fully aware that the US
Constitution contemplates impeachment as an extreme remedy for extreme
circumstances in which a president must be removed from power, without waiting
for the end of his four years mandate. But they had no choice.

Guardians of the Constitution

As they told America, in their constitutional role as guardians of our
institutions, the House Democrats could not ignore a president who has
deliberately and consciously broken his Oath of Office. On this Ukrainian
matter, he clearly abused his power as president, this way acting in open
disregard of the Constitution. And so the Democrats in the House, conscious of
their solemn constitutional obligations as public servants, simply had
to act.

Swift action

Furthermore, they had to act swiftly; because the evidence shows that this
president is busy engaging in unconstitutional conduct on a daily basis. He is
such a menace that he needs to be stopped, now, lest he
destroys the entire fabric of our cherished democratic institutions.

Exaggeration

Well, this narrative presented by the House Democrats is outlandishly
exaggerated. By inventing this notion of Trump as a monstrous creature living
in the White House, intent on shredding our American Constitution, the House
Democrats have turned this impeachment process into a farce. Many Americans
(may be most) have seen through this manufactured drama and concluded that this
impeachment process is nothing but “politics”, and not a
serious constitutional crisis, and so they have tuned out.

Real charges against Trump

Let me be clear. This is not an invented story. Ample evidence, now corroborated by multiple witnesses who have first hand knowledge of the “Ukraine military and economic aid matter” conclusively proves that President Trump tried to twist the arm of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, (by threatening to withhold aid for Ukraine already voted by Congress), so that Zelensky would commit to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, this way helping Trump’s to get re-elected.

All this is beyond dispute. And it is bad. Really bad. It is most
inappropriate for any US President to mix the foreign policy of the United
States with personal electoral politics. President Trump acted most
inappropriately; and in so doing he tarnished his office.

Impeachable offense?

So, something bad happened and the president did it. However –and this is
the critical question– is this an “impeachable offense“?
The country is deeply divided on this. Most Democrats hate Trump as a matter of
course, and so they would like to see him gone, whatever it takes. Most
Republicans believe he is OK. The independents are divided.

That said, notwithstanding the anti-Trump media hype, most Americans who live outside of the Washington, DC Beltway bubble do not care much about the complex constitutional arguments dished out by legal experts appearing non stop on cable TV.

The charge of “abuse of power” against this president for most people is an abstraction that few are willing to dig into in order to determine whether or not this particular instance of abuse rises to the level of an impeachable offense that warrants removing a president from office, especially when president Trump can be removed from office via regular elections scheduled to take place this coming November. “You want to get rid of Trump? Well, vote for the other candidate come November”.

For sure, most Americans would agree that they do not want “a criminal” in the White House. However, the “crime” the president is accused of has to be something most people can relate to. There is no clear majority that would agree that Trump’s conduct regarding the whole Ukraine messed up affair clearly constitutes “criminal behavior”. Bad behavior, unethical behavior, most probably; but not something that rises to the level of an impeachable offense.

Inflated case against Trump

In other words, it is not that the House Democrats “invented”
a case against Trump. Far from it. There is plenty of evidence that there is a
case. Their political miscalculation has been to inflate the
dimensions of the “Ukraine story” up to ridiculous proportions.

Yes, President Trump behaves in an erratic, often bizarre fashion. He says
plenty of outlandish things. And in this Ukraine case he tried to use the
considerable power of his office to obtain from another head of state something
that would probably benefit him politically by threatening to withhold a large
package of economic and military aid duly approved by Congress that the
Executive Branch was obliged by law to deliver to Ukraine.

But to assert that Trump needs to be removed from office, RIGHT
NOW
, as opposed to allowing the voters decide in the upcoming November
elections, because the future of America as a viable constitutional republic
hangs in the balance, is silly.

No, we are not about to fall into an abyss. You may have plenty of reasons
to dislike Trump; but he is not in the process of dismantling the US
Constitution.

Impeachment trivialized

The end result of this rushed impeachment process based on significant
evidence of serious misconduct which however does not jump at you as obvious
criminal behavior is to have trivialized impeachment. Impeachment should be
viewed by all as an extreme remedy for truly extreme circumstances. And this is
not the case right now.

By labeling Trump’s abuse of power as an impeachable “high
crime”
, the Democrats ended up with the unintended consequence of
trivializing impeachment. Do not be surprised if in the future, whoever will be
in the White House, a hostile House majority will threaten to impeach another
president whom they profoundly disagree with.

I do not believe that the Founders decided to include impeachment provisions
in the US Constitutions as just another tool to fight inevitable political
battles. For that purpose we have free elections held at regular intervals.

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.




Self-Driving Electric Cars Coming Soon

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Imagine this: affordable, driverless electric cars, EVs. This would be the true game changer for urban transportation and urban living. I say “would be” because this revolution, prophesized and announced many times, has not quite arrived. We know that there has been significant technological progress in these areas in the last few years; but not enough to make this vision into a reality. Still, I am hopeful that some day we shall see it.

When the revolution comes

If and when these affordable, autonomous EVs will hit the road, the impact of this radical technological revolution will be immense. I am not just talking about the environmental gains deriving from zero emissions electric engines, and therefore the overall reduction of greenhouse gases and significant air quality improvements in all large urban areas.

The real game changer will be that most people will no longer want to own a car, because hiring one will be very easy, and very cheap. Hence a true revolution in the way most of us will deal with all personal mobility needs, especially in large urban areas.

Changes in the way we think of mobility and cars

Even today, relying only on established, gasoline powered cars driven by humans who need to be paid for their driving, the availability of app-connected transportation services like Uber and Lyft convinced many city dwellers that calling a vehicle via smart phone whenever needed is easier and probably cheaper than owning and driving your own car.

How so? Uber of course is not free. However, for many users who rely on Uber or equivalent services any app-connected car service is more cost-effective than going through the trouble of buying and keeping a car.

It is true that you have to pay for each Uber ride, while you pay only a little (the cost of gasoline) each time you drive your own car. Still, you have to consider all the costs connected with owning a vehicle. You have to factor the substantial cost of the initial purchase, plus the cost of registration, insurance, parking, fuel, ordinary (oil changes) and extraordinary maintenance, (new tires, new brakes, new transmissions). Then add odds and ends like the cost of parking tickets, (some people collect many of those), the cost and aggravation caused by possible car accidents, and then the aggravation of the daily stress of driving on congested roads, and all of a sudden the Uber option, while it has a price, seems more cost-effective, at least for some.

Driverless, electric Uber

Well, if relying on smart phone connected car services as opposed to owning a car is the emerging trend today, imagine the appeal of this car hire option in a not so distant future in which your Uber or equivalent vehicle will have an electric engine and no driver. These radical innovations obviously will mean very low operating costs for the service provider, hence much lower fees charged to users, and guaranteed, fast 24 hour service.

The rides will be cheaper because there will be no payments to a human doing the driving. Besides, the driverless car will stay on the road day and night. It does not get sick and it does not need to take a break. And the cost of the electric charges will be much lower than gasoline.

The future of personal mobility

So, here is tomorrow’s scenario. Think of driverless EVs that will be on the road almost 24/7, (taking a break only for the time necessary to recharge the car’s battery). Since these vehicles will cost much less to operate, the companies providing the service will be able to pass on to the consumers significant savings.

And this will mean that almost anybody will be able to afford rides, probably several rides a day. At the same the service providers will be able to guarantee that there will be plenty of vehicles constantly on the road available to quickly meet demand for rides. And this means almost no wait time for your ride.

No more need for private cars

In this new scenario, for the vast majority of urban dwellers, owning a private vehicle will become unnecessary, because all mobility needs will be easily and inexpensively met by driverless EVs. If this is so, let’s think about the significant ripple effects of this radical reorientation of consumers’ preferences.

Fewer cars

As a result of all this, there will be a complete restructuring of the automobile industry. Only EVs will be manufactured, of course; but fewer of them, because it will no longer be one vehicle per individual driver. One vehicle on the road 24/7 will serve many customers during the day. This will mean far fewer cars on the road. And probably improved road safety, because driverless vehicles will not get distracted, they will not cause accidents. They will not be under the influence of alcohol. They will not be tired and sleepy.

Empty parking garages

Furthermore, far fewer cars constantly in circulation will mean plenty of redundant parking spaces. In most large cities enormous parking garages have been built for commuters. They are filled every day by tens of thousands of cars parked there by commuters. In the future commuters will be able to rely on services provided by driverless cars, therefore all these parking lots and garages will sit empty. This will create an opportunity for re-purposing a great deal of valuable urban real estate.

A better future

So, here the picture. No more private automobiles on the roads, or at least far, far fewer of them. And this means that the substantial capital devoted by millions of individuals to purchasing a vehicles will be used for other goals. Besides, given far fewer cars on the road, there will be no more road congestion, and no more street noise caused by the internal combustion engines and related air pollution. And, finally, no more stressed out drivers/workers who have to fight the traffic twice a day, every day, commuting to and from their work places. All in all, with the driverless EV doing the driving, this will translate into a much more enjoyable, more relaxing urban life experience for millions of people across the globe.

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