Leadership Vacuum | Essential Workers Face Existential Crisis
May 21, 2020
“Imagination governs the world.”
“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte
World Leadership Vacuum
President Trump is not a fan of the World Trade Organization, which is charged with bringing a semblance of order to international trade relations. Instead of a global system of open trade and international cooperation, Trump prefers bilateral agreements between individual countries. This view has clashed with those of the director-general of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo, who announced last Thursday that he would resign his post effective August 31. The announcement caught officials in Geneva and Brussels by surprise, and will leave a leadership vacuum at a perilous time for the world economy.
The WTO makes decisions by consensus, meaning even one of the organizations 164 members can forestall progress. The director-general’s task, to navigate conflicting national interests and reach accord, is laborious and exhausting. World trade was already declining due to Trump’s trade wars with Europe and China. Actions taken by the administration late last year — refusing to approve nominees to fill vacancies on a crucial appeals panel that rules on trade disputes — further crippled the WTO’s operations.
Covid-19 has brought economic activity in many countries to a standstill; it’s “the worst shock to global trade that has happened in our lifetimes,” said one expert. The WTO predicts global trade could fall by one-third, a decline not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Azevedo recently expressed frustration that the US, Europe, China and other large countries were not coordinating their responses to the coronavirus emergency. But he said only that the pandemic had given him “time for reflection,” and he wanted to give WTO members a head start on choosing a successor. The US top trade official said: “Roberto has led the institution with grace and a steady hand. He will be difficult to replace.”
- WTO reports big slump in global trade as coronavirus takes toll (Guardian)
- Warren Buffett explains the simple reason why the US will never default on its debt (Yahoo Finance)
- Facing Adulthood With an Economic Disaster’s Lasting Scars (NYT, $)
- The Lessons of the Great Depression (Atlantic, $)
- Harvard’s Financial Crisis Experts: This Time Really is Different (Bloomberg, $)
- Preventing a Great Depression Will Cost $10 Trillion (Atlantic, $)
- ‘We are living through the first economic crisis of the Anthropocene’ (Guardian)
Image via Getty Images
We Real Joe Camel Cool. We Smoke in June. We Might Die Soon.
- Covid-19 attacks the lungs. But apparently the crisis in the UK has so many people on edge they’ve been driven to take up smoking, or smoke more than usual, regardless of the serious harm it causes their respiratory and immune systems.
- Estimates calculated from a representative study of about 2,000 people from April 30 to May 13 suggested some 2.2 million people in the UK may be smoking more than usual during the coronavirus crisis. Another 4.8 million are thought to be smoking the same amount as before the pandemic, while 1.9 million are believed to have cut down. Some 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking every year, while many more live with debilitating smoking-related illnesses.
- News of the survey came as the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) accused the government of taking an unreasonably long time to make a decision on granting funding from its charity scheme for a “quit smoking for coronavirus” campaign. “Quit for Covid is being run on a shoestring, and without adequate funding can only have a limited impact,” said ASH’s executive director. (Guardian)
- Additional poem: We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
Face Masks Wont Stop Their Voices From Being Heard
- Burundi’s national election campaigns were marred by violence against opponents of the country’s long-reigning autocratic president Pierre Nkurunzizi. The former rebel leader has ruled the small, land-locked nation in central Africa with impunity for the last 15 years, evading international efforts to call him to account for human rights abuses.
- Most recently Nkurunzizi has downplayed the coronavirus threat, even expelling four representatives from the WHO last week in Burundi to help with the epidemic.
- On Wednesday, election day, the government blocked access to social media. Notwithstanding harassment and a lack of protections against Covid-19, five million Burundians were expected to vote at about 1500 polling stations. (NYT)
Just When I Think I’m Out, They Put Things Back In Me
- Yet another victim of Covid-19 is the hard-fought effort to ban single-use plastics, which clog up waterways, suffocate wildlife, and take centuries to decompose in landfills. Since the pandemic upended life across the globe, and hygiene raced to the top of everyone’s to-do list, retailers are banning consumers from bringing in their own reusable bags, cities and states are rolling back or delaying single-use plastic bans, and municipalities are scaling back recycling operations.
- Even San Francisco, one of the first US cities to outlaw disposable plastic bags in 2007, issued an edict at the end of March preventing businesses from “permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.” And with plastic production already scheduled to increase by 40 percent over the next decade, conservation groups fear the pandemic will further unravel measures to pare back the 8 million metric tons of plastic that enter our oceans every year.
- Environmentalists also claim the plastics industry is exploiting Covid-19 fears to demonize reusables as potential vectors for the virus. This, despite scientific evidence that the contagion can survive for days on plastic surfaces, meaning they’re not any safer than your cotton NPR tote or stainless steel Yeti tumbler. (Vox)
Additional World News
- In pictures: Cyclone Amphan hits India and Bangladesh (CNN)
- Japan’s forgotten indigenous people (BBC)
- For Boris Johnson, Parliament Is Becoming a House of Horrors (NYT, $)
- U.S. Arrests 2 Tied to Carlos Ghosn’s Escape From Japan (NYT, $)
- Coronavirus: World sees highest daily increase in virus cases – WHO (BBC)
- Vaccines: do you want the good news first or the bad news
- Monkeys infected with COVID-19 develop immunity in studies, a positive sign for vaccines (Reuters) Additional reference: 12 Monkeys Trailer (we think very highly of this film and it no longer feels as science fiction as it did when it was released in 1995).
- Superspreader Events Offer a Clue on Curbing Coronavirus (WSJ, $)
- A City Locks Down to Fight Coronavirus, but Robots Come and Go (NYT)
- Staying safe isn’t just about hygiene and distance. It’s about time, too. (CNN)
- After the Coronavirus Lockdown Ends, Here is Life in China’s Wuhan (NYT)
COVID-19 and Flying
- Memorial Day Weekend historically marks the start of summer and a lot of traveling. Flying and traveling was a big part of our lives before the pandemic. Flying now feels like it’ll be similar to going to the grocery store, a big production.
- ‘It’s Surreal Walking Through the Empty Airports’ (NYT)
- Travel Reopenings Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic (NYT)
- James Fallows: Flying Will Never Be the Same (Atlantic, $)
- The Airline Business Is Terrible. It Will Probably Get Even Worse. (NYT, $)
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
Essential Crisis Workers Have Existential Crisis
- Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests throughout the pandemic. “Essential” workers across various industries have come together to protest about issues, many of which were apparent before Covid-19.
- Labor leaders hope the protests can lead to permanent change. “There are no federal mandates or requirements to implement the social distancing guidance or anything else. It’s only guidance and employers can choose to implement them or not,” said a worker safety and health expert. “[Workers] are walking out to bring public attention to the fact that their companies are not protecting their safety and health.”
- In Texas, truck drivers joined in a protest convoy — over decreased freight rates and working conditions during the pandemic — that was organized on Facebook. Similar protests by truckers were held across the nation. A fast food worker said: “We’re understaffed, underpaid and underappreciated,” a sentiment shared by healthcare workers to Uber drivers.
- One labor and worklife expert said it was too early to tell if workers’ actions will have a lasting impact. “These walkouts show that essential workers don’t want to be treated any more as if they were disposable. They are demanding a voice in how their companies respond to the pandemic. Success will be a matter of whether consumers and policymakers will be inspired by these workers’ courage.” (Guardian)
- Who’s Enforcing Mask Rules? Often Retail Workers, and They’re Getting Hurt (NYT)
The Boy Who Cried “Voter Fraud”
- Wednesday morning President Trump sent out two tweets threatening financial retaliation against states trying to make it easier for people to vote during the pandemic. He falsely accused two critical 2020 swing states, Michigan and Nevada, of facilitating voter fraud by planning to send mail-in ballots for 2020 elections to their residents.
- Not only is “voter fraud” a spurious claim, but Michigan had announced Tuesday it was sending residents an absentee ballot application, not a ballot. Trump also threatened to cut off the states’ “funds” for encouraging people to vote absentee.
- It wasn’t clear which “funds” Trump was threatening to withhold, but he could have been referring to “Election Security Grants,” passed by Congress as part of the coronavirus response CARES Act, and which he signed into law in March.
- Both Michigan and Nevada received their share of the funds and have used them for the exact purpose laid out by Congress. Cutting off funding to these states would be unconstitutional.
- Trump himself recently cast a mail-in ballot in Florida’s primary election, but he’s stated that when states make it easier to vote by mail it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” (Guardian, Vox)
- Trump slams Michigan, Nevada for expanding voting by mail, but drops funding threat (Reuters)
Additional USA News
- He opposed public lands and wildlife protections. Trump gave him a top environment job (Guardian)
- More than 1,100 former U.S. prosecutors slam attempt to drop Flynn charges (Reuters)
- These before and after images show how much a Michigan dam failure drained a lake (CNN)
- No More ‘Kneecap to Kneecap’ Talks: Coronavirus Hinders Military Recruiting (NYT)
- Black Americans dying of Covid-19 at three times the rate of white people (Guardian)
- U.S. Supreme Court blocks disclosure of Russia report material (Reuters)
- Andrew Cuomo is no hero. He’s to blame for New York’s coronavirus catastrophe (Guardian)
- Trump ouster of inspectors general threatens coronavirus stimulus watchdog (Reuters)
- Florida Governor Defends Firing Of Top Data Scientist (NPR)
Sweet Smell of Success With a Snap
- Not everyone is out and about. Many people are still staying inside, and that includes celebrities. So along with all the vacant restaurant and movie theater businesses, paparazzi are having a hard time finding famous people to photograph.
- Giles Harrison is a longtime celebrity photographer and owner of London Entertainment Group, a paparazzi collective. Before the pandemic hit, Harrison and his team of 15 to 20 photographers were getting up to 200 sets of celebrity photos a month. They provided their shots exclusively to the photo agency Splash News, which then licensed them to outlets like Us Weekly, TMZ and The Daily Mail. But in the last month, Harrison and his crew have shot only 30 or 40 usable sets: Don Cheadle working out, Tyra Banks shopping at Target, Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger taking a walk around the neighborhood.
- Actually Covid-19 has just worsened problems that already existed in the paparazzi and tabloid worlds. Since the 2008 recession magazine advertising budgets have shrunk, and celebrities have often turned to social media instead of the paparazzi to share their personal moments. Tabloids have filled their pages with these shots from Instagram, which makes it harder for agencies to sell photos.
- Competing agencies like Splash have furloughed or laid off their staff photographers, which means almost all paparazzi have to freelance now — take their own shots, give them to an agency and hope they sell — to make any money.
- What’s hot right now are “social distance shaming” photos. One photographer said: “If somebody’s talking to their neighbor and they give them a hug, like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ Yeah, that’s definitely the new hot shot. Instead of somebody getting photographed in a bikini, which would be a big seller, now it’s interacting with other people.” (NYT)
- Sweet Smell of Success Trailer and overview
- Clicked back to life: how Netflix is reviving forgotten film flops (Guardian)
- What to Stream: Forty-four Standout Movies from Cannes Film Festivals Past (New Yorker)
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