Arquivo da tag: Desigualdade

Previsão atualizada confirma temperatura de -0ºC em SP e neve no Sul (Cajamar Notícias)

[Previsão do tempo e previsão de mortes. Observar reação do poder público municipal.]

Se confirmada, a onda de frio será a maior do século, com geada generalizada e temperaturas negativas, o que pode provocar até morte. 25 de julho de 2021

Mapa mostra a intensidade da nova onda de frio e sua abrangência.

A última atualização dos modelos meteorológicos continuam mantendo a previsão de temperaturas negativas nos três Estados do Sul do Brasil e em áreas do Estado de São Paulo e Sul de Minas Gerais. A fortíssima massa de ar polar poderá ser a mais forte do século e causar prejuízos na agricultura e até mesmo morte de pessoas em situação de vulnerabilidade.

A FRENTE FRIA – SUL

A frente fria que antecede a massa polar vai entrar no Brasil pelo Estado do Rio Grande do Sul na segunda-feira, dia 26, provocando chuva e acentuada queda de temperatura. No dia 27, terça-feira, a chuva já chega em Santa Cataria e no Paraná, fazendo a temperatura despencar rapidamente. Nas serras e áreas de planalto dos três Estados, a temperatura mínima já pode chegar a zero grau.

Na quarta, quinta, sexta e sábado, dias 28,29,30 e 31, praticamente todas as regiões do Sul do Brasil, exceto litoral, terão temperaturas negativas com possibilidade de geada negra, que pode matar a vegetação, provocando sérios prejuízos à agricultura.

NEVE

Os modelos meteorológicos mantém a chance alta de neve nas serras do Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina e até mesmo no planalto sul do Paraná, entre a noite de quarta-feira (28) e madrugada de quinta-feira (29), atingindo cidades, tais como: Canela/RS, Caxias do Sul/RS, São Joaquim/SC, Urupema/SC, Caçador/SC e Cruz Machado/PR. Confira o mapa abaixo:

Mapa mostra a região com chance de neve na madrugada de quinta-feira (29).

A FRENTE FRIA – SÃO PAULO

Na quarta-feira, dia 28, é a vez do Estado de São Paulo experimentar a volta da chuva, que não cairá em todas as regiões, mas manterá o céu nublado com ventos gélidos e temperatura máxima entre 17ºC e 18ºC enquanto as mínimas ficarão entre 5ºC a 10ºC na Grande São Paulo.

Na quinta-feira, dia 29, o Estado de São Paulo já vai amanhecer com muito frio. Temperaturas entre 1ºC e 7ºC serão registradas em toda a Grande São Paulo, Vale do Paraíba, Vale do Ribeira, regiões de Sorocaba, Bauru, Presidente Prudente e Campinas, conforme mapa abaixo:

Temperaturas previstas para o amanhecer de quinta-feira, dia 29 de julho, na Grande São Paulo, Vale do Paraíba e Ribeira, regiões de Campinas, Sorocaba, Bauru e Bragança Paulista.

SEXTA-FEIRA – O ‘PICO’ DO FRIO

A sexta-feira, dia 30 de julho de 2021, deverá ficar marcada na história da meteorologia. Se confirmada, será o dia mais frio do século, com geada generalizada no Estado de São Paulo e temperaturas negativas em várias regiões, o que pode provocar a morte de moradores de rua e/ou pessoas em vulnerabilidade.

Em praticamente todas as regiões do Estado de São Paulo, os modelos atuais indicam temperaturas negativas, conforme mapa baixo: (ATENÇÃO: As previsões podem mudar com o passar dos dias, essa é a indicação atual publicada no domingo, dia 25).

Mapa mostra o tamanho da massa de ar frio e temperatura prevista para o dia 30 a 1500 metros de altitude, com inacreditáveis -10ºC em áreas do Sul e faixa leste de São Paulo e até -5ºC nas demais regiões de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, sul e leste de Minas, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso e Rondônia.

Judith Butler: To Save the Earth, Dismantle Individuality (Time)

time.com

Judith Butler, April 21,2021


However differently we register this pandemic we understand it as global; it brings home the fact that we are implicated in a shared world. The capacity of living human creatures to affect one another can be a matter of life or death. Because so many resources are not equitably shared, and so many have only a small or vanished share of the world, we cannot recognize the pandemic as global without facing those inequalities.

Some people work for the common world, keep it going, but are not, for that reason, of it. They might lack property or papers, be sidelined by racism or even disdained as refuse—those who are poor, Black or brown, those with unpayable debts that preclude a sense of an open future.

The shared world is not equally shared. The French philosopher Jacques Rancière refers to “the part of those who have no part”—those for whom participation in the commons is not possible, never was, or no longer is. For it is not just resources and companies in which a share is to be had, but a sense of the common, a sense of belonging to a world equally, a trust that the world is organized to support everyone’s flourishing.

The pandemic has illuminated and intensified racial and economic inequalities at the same time that it heightens the global sense of our obligations to one another and the earth. There is movement in a global direction, one based on a new sense of mortality and interdependency. The experience of finitude is coupled with a keen sense of inequalities: Who dies early and why, and for whom is there no infrastructural or social promise of life’s continuity?

This sense of the interdependency of the world, strengthened by a common immunological predicament, challenges the notion of ourselves as isolated individuals encased in discrete bodies, bound by established borders. Who now could deny that to be a body at all is to be bound up with other living creatures, with surfaces, and the elements, including the air that belongs to no one and everyone?

Within these pandemic times, air, water, shelter, clothing and access to health care are sites of individual and collective anxiety. But all these were already imperiled by climate change. Whether or not one is living a livable life is not only a private existential question, but an urgent economic one, incited by the life-and-death consequences of social inequality: Are there health services and shelters and clean enough water for all those who should have an equal share of this world? The question is made more urgent by conditions of heightened economic precarity during the pandemic, exposing as well the ongoing climate catastrophe for the threat to livable life that it is.

Pandemic is etymologically pandemos, all the people, or perhaps more precisely, the people everywhere, or something that spreads over or through the people. The “demos” is all the people despite the legal barriers that seek to separate them. A pandemic, then, links all the people through the potentials of infection and recovery, suffering and hope, immunity and fatality. No border stops the virus from traveling if humans travel; no social category secures absolute immunity for those
it includes.

“The political in our time must start from the imperative to reconstruct the world in common,” argues Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe. If we consider the plundering of the earth’s resources for the purposes of corporate profit, privatization and colonization itself as planetary project or enterprise, then it makes sense to devise a movement that does not send us back to our egos and identities, our cut-off lives.

Such a movement will be, for Mbembe, “a decolonization [which] is by definition a planetary enterprise, a radical openness of and to the world, a deep breathing for the world as opposed to insulation.” The planetary opposition to extraction and systemic racism ought to then deliver us back to the world, or let the world arrive, as if for the first time, a shared place for “deep breathing”—a desire we all now know.

And yet, an inhabitable world for humans depends on a flourishing earth that does not have humans at its center. We oppose environmental toxins not only so that we humans can live and breathe without fear of being poisoned, but also because the water and the air must have lives that are not centered on our own.

As we dismantle the rigid forms of individuality in these interconnected times, we can imagine the smaller part that human worlds must play on this earth whose regeneration we depend upon—and which, in turn, depends upon our smaller and more mindful role.

Study shows education is not enough to overcome inequality (EurekaAlert!)

News Release 19-Apr-2021

North Carolina State University

Research News

A recent study finds that social inequality persists, regardless of educational achievement – particularly for men.

“Education is not the equalizer that many people think it is,” says Anna Manzoni, author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at North Carolina State University.

The study aimed to determine the extent to which a parent’s social status gives an advantage to their children. The research used the educational achievements of parents as a proxy for social status, and looked at the earnings of adult children as a proxy for professional success.

To address the research question, Manzoni examined data from people who were interviewed as part of the National Survey of College Graduates between 2010 and 2017. Specifically, Manzoni focused on United States citizens between 35 and 67 years old who reported on their wages and parental education. The final sample size was 56,819 individuals: 32,337 men and 24,482 women.

The analysis found that if a son gets a degree similar to the degree that a parent had, the son will earn more money than if his parent did not achieve the same level of education.

For example, imagine that Son A becomes a doctor, and he had a parent who was also a doctor. Meanwhile, Son B also becomes a doctor, but his parents only had bachelor’s degrees. The study found that, in general, Son A will earn more money than Son B, even though they have the same degree.

This effect also exists for daughters, but it is much weaker.

“The effect we see here essentially preserves social stratification for sons – less so for daughters,” Manzoni says. “We like to think that if someone makes it to college, becomes a lawyer, becomes a doctor, they have ‘made it.’ But what we see is that even earning an advanced degree is unlikely to put you on the same professional footing as someone who earned the same degree but started higher on the social ladder.

“One take-away is that expanding access to education is valuable, but education alone is not enough to resolve our society’s challenges in regard to inequality,” Manzoni says.

“This work shows that social origin matters, but it’s not clear what drives this structural inequality,” Manzoni adds. “Is it social capital? Access to networks? Differing financial resources? Is parental background becoming more important as a larger percentage of the population is getting a college degree? Is the advantage at the beginning of a child’s career? There is still a lot of room for additional research on this subject.”

###

The paper, “Equalizing or Stratifying? Intergenerational Persistence across College Degrees,” appears in the Journal of Higher Education.

Ravaged by Covid, Brazil Faces a Hunger Epidemic (New York Times)

Tens of millions of Brazilians are facing hunger or food insecurity as the country’s Covid-19 crisis drags on, killing thousands of people every day.

Lining up for lunch outside a Catholic charity in São Paulo. The number of people going hungry has nearly doubled in Brazil recently.
Lining up for lunch outside a Catholic charity in São Paulo. The number of people going hungry has nearly doubled in Brazil recently.

By Ernesto Londoño and Flávia Milhorance

Photographs by Victor Moriyama

April 23, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

RIO DE JANEIRO — Rail-thin teenagers hold placards at traffic stops with the word for hunger — fome — in large print. Children, many of whom have been out of school for over a year, beg for food outside supermarkets and restaurants. Entire families huddle in flimsy encampments on sidewalks, asking for baby formula, crackers, anything.

A year into the pandemic, millions of Brazilians are going hungry.

The scenes, which have proliferated in the last months on Brazil’s streets, are stark evidence that President Jair Bolsonaro’s bet that he could protect the country’s economy by resisting public health policies intended to curb the virus has failed.

From the start of the outbreak, Brazil’s president has been skeptical of the disease’s impact, and scorned the guidance of health experts, arguing that the economic damage wrought by the lockdowns, business closures and mobility restrictions they recommended would be a bigger threat than the pandemic to the country’s weak economy.

That trade-off led to one of the world’s highest death tolls, but also foundered in its goal — to keep the country afloat.

The virus is ripping through the social fabric, setting wrenching records, while the worsening health crisis pushes businesses into bankruptcy, killing jobs and further hampering an economy that has grown little or not at all for more than six years.

Daniela dos Santos cooking a meal in downtown São Paulo. The pandemic aggravated Brazil’s economic crisis, increasing the rolls of the unemployed and the homeless.
Daniela dos Santos cooking a meal in downtown São Paulo. The pandemic aggravated Brazil’s economic crisis, increasing the rolls of the unemployed and the homeless.
Volunteers distributing sandwiches and soup.
Volunteers distributing sandwiches and soup.

Last year, emergency government cash payments helped put food on the table for millions of Brazilians — but when the money was scaled back sharply this year, with a debt crisis looming, many pantries were left bare.

About 19 million people have gone hungry over the past year — nearly twice the 10 million who did so in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, according to the Brazilian government and a study of privation during the pandemic by a network of Brazilian researchers focused on the issue.

And about 117 million people, or roughly 55 percent of the country’s population, faced food insecurity, with uncertain access to enough nutrition, in 2020 — a leap from the 85 million who did so two years previous, the study showed.

“The way the government has handled the virus has deepened poverty and inequality,” said Douglas Belchior, the founder of UNEafro Brasil, one of a handful of organizations that have banded together to raise money to get food baskets to vulnerable communities. “Hunger is a serious and intractable problem in Brazil.”

Luana de Souza, 32, was one of several mothers who lined up outside an improvised food pantry on a recent afternoon hoping to score a sack with beans, rice and cooking oil. Her husband had worked for a company that organized events, but lost his job last year — one of eight million people who joined Brazil’s unemployment rolls during the pandemic, driving the rate above 14 percent, according to Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics.

At first the family managed by spending their government assistance carefully, she said, but this year, once the payments were cut, they struggled.

“There is no work,” she said. “And the bills keep coming.”

Ismael dos Santos asks drivers for change at a traffic light.
Ismael dos Santos asks drivers for change at a traffic light.
Members of an evangelical church serving breakfast.
Members of an evangelical church serving breakfast.

Brazil’s economy had gone into recession in 2014, and had not recovered when the pandemic hit. Mr. Bolsonaro often invoked the reality of families like Ms. de Souza’s, who cannot afford to stay home without working, to argue that the type of lockdowns governments in Europe and other wealthy nations ordered to curb the spread of the virus were untenable in Brazil.

Last year, as governors and mayors around Brazil signed decrees shutting down nonessential businesses and restricting mobility, Mr. Bolsonaro called those measures “extreme” and warned that they would result in malnutrition.

The president also dismissed the threat of the virus, sowed doubts about vaccines, which his government has been slow to procure, and often encouraged crowds of supporters at political events.

As a second wave of cases this year led to the collapse of the health care system in several cities, local officials again imposed a raft of strict measures — and found themselves at war with Mr. Bolsonaro.

“People have to have freedom, the right to work,” he said last month, calling the new quarantine measures imposed by local governments tantamount to living in a “dictatorship.”

Early this month, as the daily death toll from the virus sometimes surpassed 4,000, Mr. Bolsonaro acknowledged the severity of the humanitarian crisis facing his country. But he took no responsibility and instead faulted local officials.

“Brazil is at the limit,” he said, arguing that the blame lay with “whoever closed everything.”

But economists said that the argument that restrictions intended to control the virus would worsen Brazil’s economic downturn was “a false dilemma.”

In an open letter addressed to Brazilian authorities in late March, more than 1,500 economists and businesspeople asked the government to impose stricter measures, including lockdown.

“It is not reasonable to expect economic activity to recover from an uncontrolled epidemic,” the experts wrote.

Laura Carvalho, an economist, published a study showing that restrictions can have a negative short-term impact on a country’s financial health, but that, in the long run, it would have been a better strategy.

“If Bolsonaro had carried out lockdown measures, we would have moved earlier from the economic crisis,” said Ms. Carvalho, a professor at the University of São Paulo.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s approach had a broadly destabilizing effect, said Thomas Conti, lecturer at Insper, a business school.

“The Brazilian real was the most devalued currency among all developing countries,” Mr. Conti said. “We are at an alarming level of unemployment, there is no predictability to the future of the country, budget rules are being violated, and inflation grows nonstop.”

Evangelical church members performing baptisms while distributing food.
Evangelical church members performing baptisms while distributing food.
Volunteers with a Catholic charity preparing meals for the hungry in São Paulo.
Volunteers with a Catholic charity preparing meals for the hungry in São Paulo.

The country’s worsening Covid-19 crisis has left Mr. Bolsonaro politically vulnerable. The Senate this month began an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic. The study is expected to document missteps, including the government’s endorsement of drugs that are ineffective to treat Covid-19 and shortages of basic medical supplies, including oxygen. Some of those missteps are likely to be blamed for preventable deaths.

Creomar de Souza, a political analyst and the founder of the consultancy Dharma Politics in Brasília, said the president underestimated the threat the pandemic posed to the country and failed to put together a comprehensive plan to address it.

“They thought it wouldn’t be something serious and figured that the health system would be able to handle it,” he said.

Mr. de Souza said Mr. Bolsonaro has always campaigned and governed combatively, appealing to voters by presenting himself as an alternative to dangerous rivals. His response to the pandemic has been consistent with that playbook, he said.

“The great loss, in addition to the increasing number of victims in this tragedy, is an erosion of governance,” he said. “We’re facing a scenario of high volatility, with a lot of political risks, because the government didn’t deliver on public policies.”

Advocacy and human rights organizations earlier this year started a campaign called Tem Gente Com Fome, or People are Going Hungry, with the aim of raising money from companies and individuals to get food baskets to needy people across the country.

Mr. Belchior, one of the founders, said the campaign was named after a poem by the writer and artist Solano Trindade. It describes scenes of misery viewed as a train in Rio de Janeiro makes its way across poor neighborhoods where the state has been all but absent for decades.

“Families are increasingly pleading for earlier food deliveries,” said Mr. Belchior. “And they’re depending more on community actions than the government.”

Waiting in line for food to be handed out.
Waiting in line for food to be handed out.
Joaquim Ribeiro searching for recyclable materials to sell.
Joaquim Ribeiro searching for recyclable materials to sell.

Carine Lopes, 32, the president of a community ballet school in Manguinhos, a low-income, working-class district of Rio de Janeiro, has responded to the crisis by turning her organization into an impromptu relief center.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the price of basic products rose dramatically at nearby stores, she said. The cost of cooking oil more than tripled. A kilogram of rice goes for twice as much. As meat became increasingly prohibitive, Sunday outdoor cookouts became a rarity in the neighborhood.

Long used to fielding calls from parents who desperately wanted a slot for their children at the ballet school, Ms. Lopes has gotten used to a very different appeal. Old acquaintances and strangers text her daily asking about the food baskets the ballet school has been distributing weekly.

“These moms and dads are only thinking about basic things now,” she said. “They call and say: ‘I’m unemployed. I don’t have anything else to eat this week. Is there anything you can give us?’”

When the virus finally recedes, the poorest families will have the hardest time bouncing back, she said.

Ms. Lopes despairs thinking of students who have been unable to tune in to online classes in households that have no internet connection, or where the only device with a screen belongs to a working parent.

“No one will be able to compete for a scholarship with a middle-class student who managed to keep up with classes using their good internet and their tablets,” she said. “Inequality is being exacerbated.”

Handing out food baskets.
Handing out food baskets.

Ernesto Londoño is the Brazil bureau chief, based in Rio de Janeiro. He was previously an editorial writer and, before joining The Times in 2014, reported for The Washington Post.

Rich Countries Signed Away a Chance to Vaccinate the World (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo – March 21, 2021

Despite warnings, American and European officials gave up leverage that could have guaranteed access for billions of people. That risks prolonging the pandemic.
A protest in Johannesburg last week demanding that companies share vaccine technology and calling for governments to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patent rules.
Credit: Joao Silva/The New York Times

In the coming days, a patent will finally be issued on a five-year-old invention, a feat of molecular engineering that is at the heart of at least five major Covid-19 vaccines. And the United States government will control that patent.

The new patent presents an opportunity — and some argue the last best chance — to exact leverage over the drug companies producing the vaccines and pressure them to expand access to less affluent countries.

The question is whether the government will do anything at all.

The rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, achieved at record speed and financed by massive public funding in the United States, the European Union and Britain, represents a great triumph of the pandemic. Governments partnered with drugmakers, pouring in billions of dollars to procure raw materials, finance clinical trials and retrofit factories. Billions more were committed to buy the finished product.

But this Western success has created stark inequity. Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far. Under current projections, many of the rest will have to wait years.

Growing numbers of health officials and advocacy groups worldwide are calling for Western governments to use aggressive powers — most of them rarely or never used before — to force companies to publish vaccine recipes, share their know-how and ramp up manufacturing. Public health advocates have pleaded for help, including asking the Biden administration to use its patent to push for broader vaccine access.

Governments have resisted. By partnering with drug companies, Western leaders bought their way to the front of the line. But they also ignored years of warnings — and explicit calls from the World Health Organization — to include contract language that would have guaranteed doses for poor countries or encouraged companies to share their knowledge and the patents they control.

“It was like a run on toilet paper. Everybody was like, ‘Get out of my way. I’m gonna get that last package of Charmin,’” said Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale epidemiologist. “We just ran for the doses.”

A vaccination center in Rostock, Germany. About 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered have gone to wealthy or middle-income countries.
Credit: Lena Mucha for The New York Times

The prospect of billions of people waiting years to be vaccinated poses a health threat to even the richest countries. One example: In Britain, where the vaccine rollout has been strong, health officials are tracking a virus variant that emerged in South Africa, where vaccine coverage is weak. That variant may be able to blunt the effect of vaccines, meaning even vaccinated people might get sick.

Western health officials said they never intended to exclude others. But with their own countries facing massive death tolls, the focus was at home. Patent sharing, they said, simply never came up.

“It was U.S.-centric. It wasn’t anti-global.” said Moncef Slaoui, who was the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, a Trump administration program that funded the search for vaccines in the United States. “Everybody was in agreement that vaccine doses, once the U.S. is served, will go elsewhere.”

President Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive branch, are reluctant to change course. Mr. Biden has promised to help an Indian company produce about 1 billion doses by the end of 2022 and his administration has donated doses to Mexico and Canada. But he has made it clear that his focus is at home.

“We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first,” Mr. Biden said recently. “But we’re then going to try and help the rest of the world.”

Pressuring companies to share patents could be seen as undermining innovation, sabotaging drugmakers or picking drawn-out and expensive fights with the very companies digging a way out of the pandemic.

As rich countries fight to keep things as they are, others like South Africa and India have taken the battle to the World Trade Organization, seeking a waiver on patent restrictions for Covid-19 vaccines.

Russia and China, meanwhile, have promised to fill the void as part of their vaccine diplomacy. The Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, for example, has entered into partnerships with producers from Kazakhstan to South Korea, according to data from Airfinity, a science analytics company, and UNICEF. Chinese vaccine makers have reached similar deals in the United Arab Emirates, Brazil and Indonesia.

Preparing to offload a refrigerated container carrying Thailand’s first delivery of China’s Sinovac vaccines at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok last month.
Credit: Adam Dean for The New York Times

Addressing patents would not, by itself, solve the vaccine imbalance. Retrofitting or constructing factories would take time. More raw materials would need to be manufactured. Regulators would have to approve new assembly lines.

And as with cooking a complicated dish, giving someone a list of ingredients is no substitute to showing them how to make it.

To address these problems, the World Health Organization created a technology pool last year to encourage companies to share know-how with manufacturers in lower-income nations.

Not a single vaccine company has signed up.

“The problem is that the companies don’t want to do it. And the government is just not very tough with the companies,” said James Love, who leads Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit.

Drug company executives told European lawmakers recently that they were licensing their vaccines as quickly as possible, but that finding partners with the right technology was challenging.

“They don’t have the equipment,” Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said. “There is no capacity.”

But manufacturers from Canada to Bangladesh say they can make vaccines — they just lack patent licensing deals. When the price is right, companies have shared secrets with new manufacturers in just months, ramping up production and retrofitting factories.

Scientists working on the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at the University of Oxford last year. The British-Swedish drugmaker has said that it cannot transfer technology any quicker.
Credit: Andrew Testa for The New York Times

It helps when the government sweetens the deal. Earlier this month, Mr. Biden announced that the pharmaceutical giant Merck would help make vaccines for its competitor Johnson & Johnson. The government pressured Johnson & Johnson to accept the help and is using wartime procurement powers to secure supplies for the company. It will also pay to retrofit Merck’s production line, with an eye toward making vaccines available to every adult in the United States by May.

Despite the hefty government funding, drug companies control nearly all of the intellectual property and stand to make fortunes off the vaccines. A critical exception is the patent expected to be approved soon — a government-led discovery for manipulating a key coronavirus protein.

This breakthrough, at the center of the 2020 race for a vaccine, actually came years earlier in a National Institutes of Health lab, where an American scientist named Dr. Barney Graham was in pursuit of a medical moonshot.

For years, Dr. Graham specialized in the kind of long, expensive research that only governments bankroll. He searched for a key to unlock universal vaccines — genetic blueprints to be used against any of the roughly two dozen viral families that infect humans. When a new virus emerged, scientists could simply tweak the code and quickly make a vaccine.

In 2016, while working on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, another coronavirus known as MERS, he and his colleagues developed a way to swap a pair of amino acids in the coronavirus spike protein. That bit of molecular engineering, they realized, could be used to develop effective vaccines against any coronavirus. The government, along with its partners at Dartmouth College and the Scripps Research Institute, filed for a patent, which will be issued this month.

When Chinese scientists published the genetic code of the new coronavirus in January 2020, Dr. Graham’s team had their cookbook ready.

“We kind of knew exactly what we had to do,” said Jason McLellan, one of the inventors, who now works at the University of Texas at Austin. “We’d already done everything.”

Dr. Graham was already working with Moderna on a vaccine for another virus when the outbreak in China inspired his team to change focus. “We just flipped it to coronavirus and said, ‘How fast can we go?’” Dr. Graham recalled.

Dr. Barney Graham, left, and his deputy, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, right, explaining the role of spike proteins to President Biden at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., last month.
Credit: Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Within a few days, they emailed the vaccine’s genetic blueprint to Moderna to begin manufacturing. By late February, Moderna had produced enough vaccines for government-run clinical trials.

“We did the front end. They did the middle. And we did the back end,” Dr. Graham said.

Exactly who holds patents for which vaccines won’t be sorted out for months or years. But it is clear now that several of today’s vaccines — including those from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, CureVac and Pfizer-BioNTech — rely on the 2016 invention. Of those, only BioNTech has paid the U.S. government to license the technology. The patent is scheduled to be issued March 30.

Patent lawyers and public health advocates say it’s likely that other companies will either have to negotiate a licensing agreement with the government, or face the prospect of a lawsuit worth billions. The government filed such a lawsuit in 2019 against the drugmaker Gilead over H.I.V. medication.

This gives the Biden administration leverage to force companies to share technology and expand worldwide production, said Christopher J. Morten, a New York University law professor specializing in medical patents.

“We can do this the hard way, where we sue you for patent infringement,” he said the government could assert. “Or just play nice with us and license your tech.”

The National Institutes of Health declined to comment on its discussions with the drugmakers but said it did not anticipate a dispute over patent infringement. None of the drug companies responded to repeated questions about the 2016 patent.

Experts said the government has stronger leverage on the Moderna vaccine, which was almost entirely funded by taxpayers. New mRNA vaccines, such as those from Moderna, are relatively easier to manufacture than vaccines that rely on live viruses. Scientists compare it to an old-fashioned cassette player: Try one tape. If it’s not right, just pop in another.

Moderna expects $18.4 billion in vaccine sales this year, but it is the delivery system — the cassette player — that is its most prized secret. Disclosing it could mean giving away the key to the company’s future.

Preparing a dose of Moderna vaccine in San Francisco. The company expects $18.4 billion in vaccine sales this year.
Credit: Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

“There should be no division in order to win this battle,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said.

Yet European governments had backed their own champions. The European Investment Bank lent nearly $120 million to BioNTech, a German company, and Germany bought a $360 million stake in the biotech firm CureVac after reports that it was being lured to the United States.

“We funded the research, on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Udo Bullmann, a German member of the European Parliament. “You could have agreed on a paragraph that says ‘You are obliged to give it to poor countries in a way that they can afford it.’ Of course you could have.”

In May, the leaders of Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa and others called for governments to support a “people’s vaccine” that could be quickly manufactured and given for free.

They urged the governing body of the World Health Organization to treat vaccines as “global public goods.”

Though such a declaration would have had no teeth, the Trump administration moved swiftly to block it. Intent on protecting intellectual property, the government said calls for equitable access to vaccines and treatments sent “the wrong message to innovators.”

World leaders ultimately approved a watered-down declaration that recognized extensive immunization — not the vaccines themselves — as a global public good.

That same month, the World Health Organization launched the technology-access pool and called on governments to include clauses in their drug contracts guaranteeing equitable distribution. But the world’s richest nations roundly ignored the call.

In the United States, Operation Warp Speed went on a summertime spending spree, disbursing over $10 billion to handpicked companies and absorbing the financial risks of bringing a vaccine to market.

“Our role was to enable the private sector to be successful,” said Paul Mango, a top adviser to the then health secretary, Alex M. Azar II.

The deals came with few strings attached.

A drive-through Covid-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. In the United States, Operation Warp Speed paid over $10 billion to handpicked vaccine companies.
Credit: Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Large chunks of the contracts are redacted and some remain secret. But public records show that the government used unusual contracts that omitted its right to take over intellectual property or influence the price and availability of vaccines. They did not let the government compel companies to share their technology.

British and other European leaders made similar concessions as they ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations multiple times over.

“You have to write the rules of the game, and the place to do that would have been these funding contracts,” said Ellen ’t Hoen, the director of Medicines Law and Policy, an international research group.

By comparison, one of the world’s largest health financiers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, includes grant language requiring equitable access to vaccines. As leverage, the organization retains some right to the intellectual property.

Dr. Slaoui, who came to Warp Speed after leading research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, is sympathetic to this idea. But it would have been impractical to demand patent concessions and still deliver on the program’s primary goals of speed and volume, he said.

“I can guarantee you that the agreements with the companies would have been much more complex and taken a much longer time,” he said. The European Union, for example, haggled over price and liability provisions, which delayed the rollout.

In some ways, this was a trip down a trodden path. When the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic broke out in 2009, the wealthiest countries cornered the global vaccine market and all but locked out the rest of the world.

Experts said at the time that this was a chance to rethink the approach. But the swine flu pandemic fizzled and governments ended up destroying the vaccines they had hoarded. They then forgot to prepare for the future.

For months, the United States and European Union have blocked a proposal at the World Trade Organization that would waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. The application, put forward by South Africa and India with support from most developing nations, has been bogged down in procedural hearings.

“Every minute we are deadlocked in the negotiating room, people are dying,” said Mustaqeem De Gama, a South African diplomat who is involved in the talks.

But in Brussels and Washington, leaders are still worried about undermining innovation.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden’s team gathered top intellectual property lawyers to discuss ways to increase vaccine production.

“They were planning on taking the international view on things,” said Ana Santos Rutschman, a Saint Louis University law professor who participated in the sessions.

Most of the options were politically thorny. Among them was the use of a federal law allowing the government to seize a company’s patent and give it to another in order to increase supply. Former campaign advisers say the Biden camp was lukewarm to this proposal and others that called for a broader exercise of its powers.

The administration has instead promised to give $4 billion to Covax, the global vaccine alliance. The European Union has given nearly $1 billion so far. But Covax aims to vaccinate only 20 percent of people in the world’s poorest countries this year, and faces a $2 billion shortfall even to accomplish that.

A testing center in Johannesburg. South Africa is among the nations that put forward a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
Credit: Joao Silva/The New York Times

Dr. Graham, the N.I.H. scientist whose team cracked the coronavirus vaccine code for Moderna, said that pandemic preparedness and vaccine development should be international collaborations, not competitions.

“A lot of this would not have happened unless there was a big infusion of government money,” he said.

But governments cannot afford to sabotage companies that need profit to survive.

Dr. Graham has largely moved on from studying the coronavirus. He is searching for a universal flu vaccine, a silver bullet that could prevent all strains of the disease without an annual tweak.

Though he was vaccinated through work, he spent the early part of the year trying to get his wife and grown children onto waiting lists — an ordeal that even one of the key inventors had to endure. “You can imagine how aggravating that is,” he said.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.

A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Brad Plumer, Feb. 17, 2021


Systems are designed to handle spikes in demand, but the wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.
A street in Austin, Texas, without power on Monday evening.
Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Published Feb. 16, 2021Updated Feb. 17, 2021, 6:59 a.m. ET

Huge winter storms plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis this week, with frigid blasts of Arctic weather crippling electric grids and leaving millions of Americans without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.

The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where more than four million people woke up Tuesday morning to rolling blackouts. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest also faced serious strain. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 23 people nationwide had died in the storm or its aftermath.

Analysts have begun to identify key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed power demand beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for. At the same time, a large fraction of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, with some plants suffering fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working.

The crisis sounded an alarm for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face extreme weather events that go far beyond the historical conditions those systems were designed for, putting them at risk of catastrophic failure.

While scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in this week’s winter storms, it is clear that global warming poses a barrage of additional threats to power systems nationwide, including fiercer heat waves and water shortages.

Measures that could help make electric grids more robust — such as fortifying power plants against extreme weather, or installing more backup power sources — could prove expensive. But as Texas shows, blackouts can be extremely costly, too. And, experts said, unless grid planners start planning for increasingly wild and unpredictable climate conditions, grid failures will happen again and again.

“It’s essentially a question of how much insurance you want to buy,” said Jesse Jenkins, an energy systems engineer at Princeton University. “What makes this problem even harder is that we’re now in a world where, especially with climate change, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected.”

Texas’ main electric grid, which largely operates independently from the rest of the country, has been built with the state’s most common weather extremes in mind: soaring summer temperatures that cause millions of Texans to turn up their air-conditioners all at once.

While freezing weather is rarer, grid operators in Texas have also long known that electricity demand can spike in the winter, particularly after damaging cold snaps in 2011 and 2018. But this week’s winter storms, which buried the state in snow and ice, and led to record-cold temperatures, surpassed all expectations — and pushed the grid to its breaking point.

Residents of East Dallas trying to warm up on Monday after their family home lost power.
Credit: Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press

Texas’ grid operators had anticipated that, in the worst case, the state would use 67 gigawatts of electricity during the winter peak. But by Sunday evening, power demand had surged past that level. As temperatures dropped, many homes were relying on older, inefficient electric heaters that consume more power.

The problems compounded from there, with frigid weather on Monday disabling power plants with capacity totaling more than 30 gigawatts. The vast majority of those failures occurred at thermal power plants, like natural gas generators, as plummeting temperatures paralyzed plant equipment and soaring demand for natural gas left some plants struggling to obtain sufficient fuel. A number of the state’s power plants were also offline for scheduled maintenance in preparation for the summer peak.

The state’s fleet of wind farms also lost up to 4.5 gigawatts of capacity at times, as many turbines stopped working in cold and icy conditions, though this was a smaller part of the problem.

In essence, experts said, an electric grid optimized to deliver huge quantities of power on the hottest days of the year was caught unprepared when temperatures plummeted.

While analysts are still working to untangle all of the reasons behind Texas’ grid failures, some have also wondered whether the unique way the state manages its largely deregulated electricity system may have played a role. In the mid-1990s, for instance, Texas decided against paying energy producers to hold a fixed number of backup power plants in reserve, instead letting market forces dictate what happens on the grid.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the flow of power in the state, saying its performance had been “anything but reliable” over the previous 48 hours.

In theory, experts said, there are technical solutions that can avert such problems.

Wind turbines can be equipped with heaters and other devices so that they can operate in icy conditions — as is often done in the upper Midwest, where cold weather is more common. Gas plants can be built to store oil on-site and switch over to burning the fuel if needed, as is often done in the Northeast, where natural gas shortages are common. Grid regulators can design markets that pay extra to keep a larger fleet of backup power plants in reserve in case of emergencies, as is done in the Mid-Atlantic.

But these solutions all cost money, and grid operators are often wary of forcing consumers to pay extra for safeguards.

“Building in resilience often comes at a cost, and there’s a risk of both underpaying but also of overpaying,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “It’s a difficult balancing act.”

In the months ahead, as Texas grid operators and policymakers investigate this week’s blackouts, they will likely explore how the grid might be bolstered to handle extremely cold weather. Some possible ideas include: Building more connections between Texas and other states to balance electricity supplies, a move the state has long resisted; encouraging homeowners to install battery backup systems; or keeping additional power plants in reserve.

The search for answers will be complicated by climate change. Over all, the state is getting warmer as global temperatures rise, and cold-weather extremes are, on average, becoming less common over time.

But some climate scientists have also suggested that global warming could, paradoxically, bring more unusually fierce winter storms. Some research indicates that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This can allow cold air to periodically escape to the South, resulting in episodes of bitter cold in places that rarely get nipped by frost.

ImageCredit: Jacob Ford/Odessa American, via Associated Press

But this remains an active area of debate among climate scientists, with some experts less certain that polar vortex disruptions are becoming more frequent, making it even trickier for electricity planners to anticipate the dangers ahead.

All over the country, utilities and grid operators are confronting similar questions, as climate change threatens to intensify heat waves, floods, water shortages and other calamities, all of which could create novel risks for the nation’s electricity systems. Adapting to those risks could carry a hefty price tag: One recent study found that the Southeast alone may need 35 percent more electric capacity by 2050 simply to deal with the known hazards of climate change.

And the task of building resilience is becoming increasingly urgent. Many policymakers are promoting electric cars and electric heating as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But as more of the nation’s economy depends on reliable flows of electricity, the cost of blackouts will become ever more dire.

“This is going to be a significant challenge,” said Emily Grubert, an infrastructure expert at Georgia Tech. “We need to decarbonize our power systems so that climate change doesn’t keep getting worse, but we also need to adapt to changing conditions at the same time. And the latter alone is going to be very costly. We can already see that the systems we have today aren’t handling this very well.”

John Schwartz, Dave Montgomery and Ivan Penn contributed reporting.

Apesar de efeitos negativos, pandemia deixa legado de solidariedade, dizem líderes comunitários (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

Lalo de Almeida/Folha Press

Cresce preocupação com educação em comunidades pobres de grandes cidades

Thiago Amâncio, 20 de setembro de 2020

Apesar de pessimistas com o legado negativo de alto desemprego e fome que a pandemia da Covid-19 pode deixar, líderes de comunidades pobres país afora se dizem esperançosos com a solidariedade criada nesses lugares após a chegada da doença.

É o que aponta levantamento feito entre 17 e 30 de agosto pela Rede de Pesquisa Solidária, que monitora as respostas à Covid pelo país. É a quarta rodada de uma enquete feita com 64 lideranças comunitárias nas regiões metropolitanas de Manaus, Recife, Belo Horizonte, Rio, São Paulo, Distrito Federal, Campinas (SP), Salvador, Joinville (SC) e Maringá (PR).

“Quando perguntamos sobre perspectiva para o futuro, houve essa percepção de que a pandemia gerou engajamento, foi uma surpresa para nós. Por um lado, é efeito de uma constatação negativa: as pessoas se sentiram abandonadas e aprenderam que tiveram que se reestruturar para reagir à pandemia”, diz Graziela Castello, diretora-administrativa e pesquisadora do Cebrap.

“Moradores que não tinham história de associativismo, relação com sindicato, com partido, começaram a se organizar. Dos entrevistados, 16%, acham que gerou algum tipo de consciência política na população e que a gestão da pandemia provocou a necessidade de avaliar o governo, pensar nas eleições. Dentro do cenário de abandono completo, talvez tenha impacto positivo de maior prática de cidadania política”, continua.

O principal problema apontado pelas lideranças, no entanto, ainda é a segurança alimentar: 62% dos entrevistados disseram se preocupar com a fome provocada pela pandemia. A falta de trabalho também foi citada por metade dos ouvidos.

Uma outra questão despontou no último questionário feito: a preocupação com a educação. Um em cada cinco entrevistados citou a volta às aulas como um dos problemas mais críticos atualmente.

E aí os líderes se dividem: parte deles se preocupa que o retorno das crianças às escolas possa aumentar a contaminação dentro das comunidades; outra parte se preocupa com o pouco acesso das crianças e adolescentes a ferramentas de ensino remoto, prejudicando a aprendizagem.

“Os familiares são terrivelmente contra o retorno às aulas, mesmo porque se trata de um governo e de um prefeito que não investiu na saúde, não fez um investimento na preparação da volta às aulas, nas salas de aula. Segundo, o governo e o prefeito lá vão colocar um frasco de álcool em gel e um ventilador para fazer a ventilação, e [afirmam que] isso é o suficiente para espantar o vírus. A gente sabe que precisa de um investimento muito maior do que isso”, diz um entrevistado do Tucuruvi, zona norte de São Paulo.

“As famílias não têm internet, telefone, computador em casa. E as crianças estão sem estudar, sem escola. E devido a essa situação elas ficam em casa sem fazer nada. Tem mães analfabetas que não sabem explicar e ajudar nas atividades, ficou muito difícil nas comunidades”, diz outro na Brasilândia, também em São Paulo.

Para Castello, “a diversidade de opiniões mostra o drama que é gerenciar essa situação”, diz. “De um lado, tem o medo da volta às aulas, do impacto nos parentes mais velhos, a preocupação de que as escolas não estão preparadas para voltar. Do outro lado, as lideranças apontam deficiências cognitivas, depressão nas crianças, todo esse processo que o distanciamento tem gerado.”

“As duas coisas são muito perversas. Os pais lidam com o medo da volta e com a impossibilidade da manutenção em casa”, diz a pesquisadora.

A Rede de Pesquisa Solidária reúne dezenas de pesquisadores de instituições públicas e privadas, como a USP, o Cebrap (Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento) e a Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV). Desde abril, eles têm produzido boletins semanais, que estão disponíveis no site da iniciativa.

68% Have Antibodies in This Clinic. Can Neighborhood Beat a Next Wave? (The New York Times)

nytimes.com

By Joseph Goldstein

Data from those tested at a storefront medical office in Queens is leading to a deeper understanding of the outbreak’s scope in New York.

Some neighborhoods, like Corona in Queens, were so hard hit during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic that they might now have herd immunity. 
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

July 9, 2020; Updated 7:37 a.m. ET

At a clinic in Corona, a working-class neighborhood in Queens, more than 68 percent of people tested positive for antibodies to the new coronavirus. At another clinic in Jackson Heights, Queens, that number was 56 percent. But at a clinic in Cobble Hill, a mostly white and wealthy neighborhood in Brooklyn, only 13 percent of people tested positive for antibodies.

As it has swept through New York, the coronavirus has exposed stark inequalities in nearly every aspect of city life, from who has been most affected to how the health care system cared for those patients. Many lower-income neighborhoods, where Black and Latino residents make up a large part of the population, were hard hit, while many wealthy neighborhoods suffered much less.

But now, as the city braces for a possible second wave of the virus, some of those vulnerabilities may flip, with the affluent neighborhoods becoming most at risk of a surge. According to antibody test results from CityMD that were shared with The New York Times, some neighborhoods were so exposed to the virus during the peak of the epidemic in March and April that they might have some protection during a second wave.

“Some communities might have herd immunity,” said Dr. Daniel Frogel, a senior vice president for operations at CityMD, which plays a key role in the city’s testing program.

The CityMD statistics — which Dr. Frogel provided during an interview and which reflect tests done between late April and late June — appear to present the starkest picture yet of how infection rates have diverged across neighborhoods in the city.

As of June 26, CityMD had administered about 314,000 antibody tests in New York City. Citywide, 26 percent of the tests came back positive.

But Dr. Frogel said the testing results in Jackson Heights and Corona seemed to “jump off the map.”

While stopping short of predicting that those neighborhoods would be protected against a major new outbreak of the virus — a phenomenon known as herd immunity — several epidemiologists said that the different levels of antibody prevalence across the city are likely to play a role in what happens next, assuming that antibodies do in fact offer significant protection against future infection.

“In the future, the infection rate should really be lower in minority communities,” said Kitaw Demissie, an epidemiologist and the dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of the city’s contact-tracing program, said that while much remained unknown about the strength and duration of the protection that antibodies offer, he was hopeful that hard-hit communities like Corona would have some degree of protection because of their high rate of positive tests. “We hope that that will confer greater herd immunity,” he said.

Neighborhoods that had relatively low infection rates — and where few residents have antibodies — are especially vulnerable going forward. There could be some degree of “catch up” among neighborhoods, said Prof. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at the CUNY School of Public Health.

But he added that even if infection rate were to climb in wealthier neighborhoods, “there are advantages to being in the neighborhoods that are hit later.” For one, doctors have become somewhat more adept at treating severe cases.

Many residents of neighborhoods like Elmhurst, in Queens, had to continue working during the peak. 
Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Some epidemiologists and virologists cautioned that not enough data exists to conclude that any areas have herd immunity. For starters, the fact that 68.4 percent of tests taken at an urgent care center in Corona came back positive does not mean that 68.4 percent of residents had been infected.

“For sure, the persons who are seeking antibody testing probably have a higher likelihood of being positive than the general population,” said Professor Nash. “If you went out in Corona and tested a representative sample, it wouldn’t be 68 percent.”

So far, the federal government has released relatively little data from antibody testing — making the CityMD data all the more striking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, has published limited data that suggested that 6.93 percent of residents in New York City and part of Long Island had antibodies. But that survey was based on samples collected mainly in March, before many infected New Yorkers might have developed antibodies.

New York State conducted a more comprehensive survey on antibody rates, which involved testing some 28,419 people across the state. That survey suggested that roughly 21.6 percent of New York City residents had antibodies. But it also revealed a much higher rate in some neighborhoods. While the state has released little data from Queens, its numbers showed that in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for example, about 45 percent of those tested had antibodies.

The CityMD data provides similar conclusions. At a location in Bushwick, a Brooklyn neighborhood which has a large Hispanic population and where the median household income is below the citywide average, some 35 percent of antibody tests were positive, according to Dr. Frogel.

More than 56 percent of patients at one clinic in Jackson Heights,  Queens, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. 
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

Dr. Frogel said that across the Bronx, which has had the city’s highest death rate from Covid-19, about 37 percent of antibody tests were turning up positive.

The CityMD in Corona, on Junction Boulevard, serves a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood whose residents include many construction workers and restaurant employees. Many had to work throughout the pandemic, raising their risk of infection.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, called the high positive rate in Corona “a stunning finding.” Epidemiologists said the rate showed the limits of New York’s strategy in curtailing the virus: While public health measures may have slowed the spread in some neighborhoods, they did far less for others.

There are reasons parts of Queens were hit so hard. Homes in Elmhurst and parts of Corona are especially crowded — the highest rate of household crowding in the city, according to census bureau data from 2014. Given that transmission among family members is a leading driver of the disease’s spread, it is unsurprising that crowded households have been associated with higher risk of infection.

For residents of Corona, the main sources of employment are jobs in hospitality, including restaurants, as well as construction and manufacturing, according to a 2019 report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Many construction workers and restaurant employees showed up to work throughout the pandemic, elevating their risk of infection.

“Our plan did not really accommodate essential workers as it did people privileged enough — for lack of a better word — to socially distance themselves,” Professor Nash said. He said that one lesson of the past few months was that the city needed to better protect essential workers — everyone from grocery store employees to pharmacy cashiers — and make sure they had sufficient protective equipment.

Epidemiologists have estimated that at least 60 percent of a population — and perhaps as much as 80 percent — would need immunity before “herd immunity” is reached, and the virus can no longer spread widely in that community.

But scientists say it would be a mistake to base public health decisions off antibody rates across a population.

“Just looking at seroprevalence alone can’t really be used to make actionable public health decisions,” Dr. Rasmussen, the virologist at Columbia, said.

One reason is that the accuracy of the antibody tests is not fully known, nor is the extent of immunity conferred by antibodies or how long that immunity lasts. Dr. Rasmussen noted that the “magical number of 60 percent for herd immunity” assumes that everyone infected has complete protection from a second infection. “But what about people with partial protection?” she asked. “They may not get sick, but they can get infected and pass it along.”

“It is premature to discuss herd immunity, since we are still learning what the presence of Covid-19 antibodies means to an individual and whether, or for how long, that conveys immunity; and we don’t know how the level of immunity in a single community translates into herd immunity,” said Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

He said he was unsurprised by the high rate in Corona, and senior officials with the city’s contact-tracing program and public hospital system agree. “We know this area was disproportionately affected,” said Dr. Andrew Wallach, a senior official in the city’s public hospital system, “so this just confirms what we’ve seen clinically.”

Joseph Goldstein covers health care in New York, following years of criminal justice and police reporting for the Metro desk. He also spent a year in The Times’ Kabul bureau, reporting on Afghanistan.  @JoeKGoldstein

We Might Finally Get a Basic Income (Gizmodo)

gizmodo.com

Bryan Menegus – May 8, 2020 1:49PM

Sen. Kamala Harris

Joined by Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey, Kamala Harris is pushing new legislation that would provide up to $2,000 a month for every U.S. resident. There’s another term for that: a universal basic income.

While UBIs are usually associated with the magical thinking that we’ll at some point reach a fully-automated post-work economy, the closest America came to instituting one was arguably through vast expansions of unemployment benefits during the Great Depression. We’re certainly headed for similar territory now, with a current unemployment rate of nearly 15-percent, and an estimated 20,500,000 jobs lost so far.

The proposal builds on an idea Harris has been kicking around for some years, but which was previously a more modest tax credit of up to $500. This new bill—and we can hypothesize if these unusual times, or the input of considerably more left-leaning Senators Sanders and Markey was a deciding factor—calls for direct cash payments of $2,000 per individual, $2,000 per child, and would apply retroactively to the months of March and April. This could be a life-saving infusion for many Americans who are out of work, especially as no major city has yet instituted any form of rent cancellation.

To be clear, what Harris proposes isn’t a UBI exactly, as it’s not intended to be universal. Those with an income of $100,000 would see decreased payments, while anyone making $120,000 or more would be ineligible to receive the stimulus.

Is it even worth contrasting a proposal to consistently float struggling Americans through this pandemic with an unserious, one-time, $1,200 payment approved by the Trump administration which some people still have not received? No, it most definitely is not—especially since the White House has announced it wouldn’t consider additional stimulus for the rest of the month. Unlike that ridiculous PR scheme, this bill would make funds available, even to those without social security numbers, and also stipulates that the monthly payments cannot be garnished by debt collectors.

All that said, Republicans—led by a majority leader who thought allowing states to propose bankruptcy was a smart idea—control the Senate currently, and are unlikely to vote favorably on any social welfare program. If and when this bill dies on the Senate floor, you’ll know who to blame.

Manaus testemunha a ‘hora da morte’ por covid-19. “As pessoas morrem sozinhas. Sozinhas, sozinhas, sozinhas” (El País)

A médica Uildeia Galvão atua em condições precárias no PS 28 de agosto, na capital do Amazonas, um retrato do colapso que se espalha pelo Brasil

Josette GoulartSão Paulo – 01 may 2020 – 17:28 BRT

Uildéia Galvão, médica de Manaus que atende paciente da covid-19.
Uildéia Galvão, médica de Manaus que atende paciente da covid-19.Divulgação

“Os pacientes que têm covid sentem muita sede. Tem momento que eles querem muita água. E aí você vê o paciente pedindo água e… você não pode, você não consegue, você está entubando alguém, vendo um outro paciente mais grave. E você não tem ninguém para dar essa assistência para esse paciente”. A médica Uildéia Galvão trabalha 12 horas por dia, todos os dias. Às vezes, 20 horas por dia, para dar conta dos pacientes que chegam ao Pronto Socorro 28 de agosto, em Manaus. A capital do Amazonas é uma das mais afetadas no Brasil pela crise do coronavírus e tem sido palco das histórias mais tristes da pandemia no Brasil. Superlotação em hospitais, avalanche de corpos nos cemitérios, centenas de mortos que não conseguem chegar ao hospital e morrem em casa.

Galvão atende os 120 leitos da Sala Rosa do PS, para onde são encaminhados os doentes graves de covid-19. Médica há 25 anos, ela não consegue aceitar essa nova modalidade de ‘hora da morte’ trazida pelo coronavírus: “É difícil você ver pessoas morrerem sozinhas. Sozinhas, sozinhas, sozinhas. Sozinhas”. Sim, ela repete o “sozinhas” cinco vezes como quem não acredita nas próprias palavras que saem da sua boca.

No 28 de agosto, não dá tempo de fazer uma teleconferência por celular na hora da despedida. No 28 de agosto, não dá tempo para nada. “Você vê pacientes quatro dias sem tomar banho, sem ter o asseio, porque você não tem o recurso humano ali para fazer isso”. O colapso do sistema de saúde de Manaus parece que estava para acontecer a qualquer momento, mas o coronavírus apressou as coisas. A doutora Galvão diz que é verdade que muitos profissionais de saúde pegaram o vírus e foram afastados, mas a bem da verdade, segundo ela, é que não havia recursos humanos suficientes há muito tempo.

Em plena pandemia, os profissionais de saúde dos pronto-socorros de Manaus estavam ainda para receber o salário de fevereiro. Em plena pandemia, os profissionais de saúde dos PSs de Manaus precisam comprar seus próprios equipamentos de proteção. Em plena pandemia, muitos dias sem que o laboratório de saúde pública do Amazonas não recolhesse material para fazer os testes de covid-19. E não é atraso em divulgar resultados. Não há coleta de material para produzir resultados mesmo. “E olha que só estamos atendendo pacientes realmente graves”, diz Uildeia.

Oficialmente, o Estado somava 476 mortes por covid-19 até sexta, e 5.723 infectados. Mas as imagens nos noticiários de cemitérios lotados e o choro na TV de famílias desesperadas deixam claro que a subnotificação ali é enorme. A distorção de dados parece mesmo gritante. Ao longo das semanas, o Brasil viu as imagens tenebrosas de enterros em valas comuns na cidade de Manaus até de madrugada. Pergunto à doutora Galvão se ela viu as imagens. “Não sei nem se é tocante, não sei se é trágica. Mas reflete realmente o nosso dia a dia. Tem sido bem difícil mesmo”.

Há duas semanas, o prefeito Arthur Vírgilio foi para as redes sociais dizer que a média diária de sepultamentos triplicou na cidade. Agora, quadruplicaram. No último domingo, houve um pico de 140 mortos. A média diária tem sido de 100. Em outros anos, os dias com maior pico de mortos não ultrapassava a 35 sepultamentos. No entanto, os dados informados ao Ministério da Saúde davam conta de apenas 17 mortos.

O prefeito ainda fez um outro alerta: o alto percentual de pessoas que morrem em casa, sem atendimento médico. Na segunda, mais de um terço das pessoas morreu em casa. A tempestade perfeita chegou em Manaus. Juntou um sistema de saúde já fragilizado, uma pandemia que levou uma avalanche de pacientes aos hospitais, uma população envelhecida aos 60 anos com uma série de doenças, propícias ao coronavírus e para coroar um completo desrespeito ao isolamento.

De acordo com os dados da start up In Loco, que tem feito um acompanhamento do movimento de celulares pelo país, desde o início do distanciamento social, em meados de março, o Amazonas foi o Estado que registrou os menores percentuais de adesão ao #fiqueemcasa. Durante a semana, bateu menos de 50%.

Mas ainda tem um outro ingrediente: o governador do Estado, Wilson Lima, do PSC. O pessoal não parece muito feliz com o governador, não. Na segunda, a assembleia legislativa do estado aprovou um pedido de intervenção federal na saúde do Amazonas. O pedido já foi encaminhado ao governo federal. Também o Sindicato dos Médicos entrou com um pedido de impeachment do governador na Assembleia Legislativa. O pedido foi aceito.

Além disso, o Ministério Público Federal e o Ministério Público do Estado dizem que o governador não está sendo transparente nos gastos com a pandemia. Uma ação foi ajuizada pedindo que o governador divulgue como gastou cada tostão que recebeu do governo federal para o combate ao coronavírus. E os profissionais da saúde fazem coro. O governo do Estado não respondeu aos diversos questionamentos feitos pela reportagem.

Desde que falamos com a doutora Galvão pela primeira vez, ela diz que algumas coisas melhoraram. Os equipamentos de proteção passaram a ser entregues, mesmo que em sistema de racionamento. “Mas é até bom que sejam racionados para não faltar”. Foram abertos mais leitos de retaguarda, o que ajudou a desafogar os prontos-socorros. E o Governo do Estado abriu uma linha de comunicação direta com os médicos, além de prometer organizar um cronograma para atualizar os pagamentos de 2020, para que os salários não atrasem mais.

Enquanto tudo isso acontece ao seu redor, a doutora Galvão, mesmo que sutilmente, demonstra seu ressentimento com os governantes do Estado. Ela fala daqueles que vão à mídia dizer que as pessoas estão morrendo porque falta atendimento. Isso recai sobre o pessoal que está na linha de frente, trabalhando quatro vezes mais do que trabalhavam e enfrentando a revolta da população. “A população tem dificuldade imensa de entender que não é o profissional de saúde que é responsável por criar estrutura de atendimento razoável para que a probabilidade de sucesso seja a melhor. Entendeu? E a gente não consegue desmistificar isso.”

— Qual é seu medo?, pergunto.

Do outro lado do telefone, um segundo de silêncio e a resposta:

— Meu medo é que isso demore muito. É exaustão. É muito cansativo. É exaustão mesmo.

— Você já está há quantos dias nesse ritmo?

— (um suspiro ainda maior que o primeiro). Nesse ritmo? Desde o dia 20 de março… por aí.

— Já faz 30 dias.

— É… já faz 30 dias.

Conversamos mais um pouco. Ela acha que o pico será na próxima semana. E conta sua desesperança com o descaso aos profissionais que não têm um líder que elabore um plano de ação. Ela acha que nem dá mais tempo. Sofre ao constatar que famílias largam seus velhinhos no hospital. “Eu disse para a minha filha que nem sempre é só problema do sistema de saúde. Existe uma crise humanitária também”.

Faço uma última pergunta:

— Se você pudesse falar em rede nacional, qual recado você daria?

A doutora responde, sem pestanejar:

— Fiquem em casa. Fiquem em casa o tempo que for possível e necessário. Deem atenção aos seus velhinhos, aos seus pais… A gente tem que aprender alguma coisa com isso. A gente vê hoje uma polaridade não só de política, de tudo, de ideia, de sentimento, ou você é isso ou você é aquilo. Eu acho que a gente tem que repensar tudo isso e ver para onde a gente quer andar com o nosso país, com nossa política. Não é possível que a gente não vai aprender que tem que ser mais humano, mais gentil e mais educado e saber escolher melhor quem são as pessoas que vão definir o futuro dos nossos netos, bisnetos. A gente tem hoje o que a gente tem, vai ter que aprender a conviver com isso fazendo o nosso melhor. Mas, no futuro, não é possível não ter algum mecanismo de mudança.

Josette Goulart é fundadora e editora da Lagartixa Diária, @lagartixadiaria

Escalada da crise deixa mais de mil à espera de leitos no Rio e faz São Paulo cogitar levar doentes para o interior

Fé, café e família. A volta para casa depois de 10 dias na UTI pelo coronavírus

Gustavo Cabral, biólogo: “Vacina no Brasil começa a ser testada em animais nas próximas semanas”

Elio Gaspari: A fila única para a Covid-19 está na mesa (Folha de S.Paulo)

Os barões da medicina privada mantiveram-se em virótico silêncio

Folha de S.Paulo

3 de maio de 2020

O médico sanitarista Gonzalo Vecina Neto defendeu a instituição de uma fila única para o atendimento de pacientes de Covid-19 em hospitais públicos e privados. Nas suas palavras: “Dói, mas tem que fazer. Porque se não brasileiros pobres vão morrer e brasileiros ricos vão se salvar. Não tem cabimento isso”.

Ex-diretor da Agência de Vigilância Sanitária e ex-superintendente do hospital Sírio Libanês, Vecina tem autoridade para dizer o que disse. A fila única não é uma ideia só dele. Foi proposta no início de abril por grupos de estudo das universidades de São Paulo e Federal do Rio.

Na quarta-feira (29), o presidente do Conselho Nacional de Saúde, Fernando Zasso Pigatto, enviou ao ministro Nelson Teich e aos secretários estaduais de Saúde sua Recomendação 26, para que assumam a coordenação “da alocação dos recursos assistenciais existentes, incluindo leitos hospitalares de propriedade de particulares, requisitando seu uso quando necessário, e regulando o acesso segundo as prioridades sanitárias de cada caso”.

Por quê? Porque a rede privada tem 15.898 leitos de UTIs, com ociosidade de 50%, e a rede pública tem 14.876 e está a um passo do colapso.

O ex-ministro Luiz Henrique Mandetta (ex-diretor de uma Unimed) jamais tocou no assunto. Seu sucessor, Nelson Teich (cuja indicação para a pasta foi cabalada por agentes do baronato) também não. Depois da recomendação do conselho, quatro guildas da medicina privada saíram do silêncio, condenaram a ideia e apresentaram quatro propostas alternativas. Uma delas, a testagem da população, é risível e duas são dilatórias (a construção de hospitais de campanha e a publicação de editais para a contratação de leitos e serviços). A quarta vem a ser boa ideia: a revitalização de leitos públicos. Poderia ter sido oferecida em março.

Desde o início da epidemia os barões da medicina privada mantiveram-se em virótico silêncio. Eles viviam no mundo encantado da saúde de grife, contratando médicos renomados como se fossem jogadores de futebol, inaugurando hospitais com hotelarias estreladas e atendendo clientes de planos de saúde bilionários. Veio a Covid-19, e descobriram-se num país com 40 milhões de invisíveis e 12 milhões de desempregados.

Se o vírus tivesse sido enfrentado com a energia da Nova Zelândia, o silêncio teria sido eficaz. Como isso era impossível, acordaram no Brasil, com 90 mil infectados e mais de 6.000 mortos.

A Agência Nacional de Saúde ofereceu aos planos de saúde acesso ao recursos de um fundo se elas aceitassem atender (até julho) clientes inadimplentes. Nem pensar. Dos 780 planos só 9 aderiram.

O silêncio virótico provocou-lhes uma tosse com a recomendação do Conselho Nacional de Saúde. A fila única é um remédio com efeitos laterais tóxicos. Se a burocracia ficar encarregada de organizá-la, arrisca só ficar pronta em 2021. Ademais é discutível se uma pessoa que pagou caro pelo acesso a um hospital deve ficar atrás de alguém que não pagou. Na outra ponta dessa discussão, fica a frase de Vecina: “Brasileiros pobres vão morrer e brasileiros ricos vão se salvar”. Os números da epidemia mostram que o baronato precisa sair da toca.

A Covid-19 jogou o sistema de saúde brasileiro na arapuca daquele navio cujo nome não deve ser pronunciado (com Leonardo DiCaprio estrelando o filme). O transatlântico tinha 2.200 passageiros, mas nos seus botes salva-vidas só cabiam 1.200 pessoas. 34% dos homens da primeira classe salvaram-se.

Na terceira classe, só 12%.

O coronavírus e as desigualdades raciais e de classe (Fórum)

por Dennis de Oliveira ‌

Opinião Quilombo 16 de março de 2020, 23h12

Foto: Marcelo Casal Jr/Agência Brasil‌ ‌‌‌ ‌ ‌

A epidemia do coronavírus no mundo está evidenciando as desigualdades sociais, apesar de aparentemente o vírus contaminar todos e, neste primeiro momento, pessoas das classes média e alta que viajaram para o exterior. De fato, o que salta aos olhos neste momento da epidemia é o fato dela ter tomado uma dimensão na cobertura jornalística muito maior que outras epidemias que ainda hoje vitimam mais pessoas, como a dengue e o sarampo.

À primeira vista, isto ocorre justamente por uma questão de classe: como o epicentro atual do coronavírus é a Europa e não o continente africano ou latino-americano, a visibilidade desta epidemia é muito maior. Uma lógica que também esteve presente quando a mídia hegemônica em todo o mundo, inclusive o Brasil, mobilizou os sentimentos de consternação no ataque do grupo terrorista Exército Islâmico à Paris em 2015. O grupo Boko Haram praticou ataques terroristas até mais violentos em 2019 na Nigéria sem a mesma repercussão. ‌ ‌ ‌

Mas o classismo e o racismo também estão neste caso do coronavírus. E é importante este alerta porque há ideias entre algumas pessoas da periferia de que se trata de “doença de gente rica” e, portanto, não deveria ser objeto de preocupação da população da quebrada. Se não ficarmos atentos, pode-se em pouco tempo haver um deslocamento do epicentro da doença para a periferia e, por conta disto, sem a visibilidade que ela tem agora.

Uma análise de algumas medidas de contenção do vírus: a ordem é sair pouco de casa, procurar trabalhar em “home-office”, transferir as atividades didáticas de escolas e universidades para a modalidade online, suspender viagens internacionais, entre outros. Note-se que os atores atingidos por estas medidas protetivas são aqueles que não estão na maior parte do trabalho precarizado e informal. Se nas universidades as aulas foram suspensas e algumas adotaram o sistema de ensino à distância, como ficam os funcionários operacionais terceirizados? Evidente que eles continuarão trabalhando. ‌

Há o caso relatado pelo colunista Lauro Jardim, do Globo, do empresário  e sua esposa que contraíram o vírus em uma viagem, se colocaram em quarentena no apartamento deles porém obrigaram a empregada doméstica a continuar indo trabalhar desconsiderando o alto risco dela se contaminar. ‌

Com isto, em um primeiro momento, observa-se que tais medidas, ao mesmo tempo que visam proteger um determinado segmento da sociedade, deixam o outro completamente desprotegido. Estes trabalhadores operacionais e precarizados se deslocam para suas casas de transporte coletivo, um ambiente potencialmente explosivo para uma contaminação massiva. ‌ ‌

Esta situação se agrava por dois motivos conjunturais: o primeiro é a desregulamentação do trabalho imposta pela direita em todo o mundo e aplicada no Brasil com maior intensidade no ano passado. A lógica desta proposta é: o ganho depende de quanto trabalha e não de quanto é necessário para sobreviver. Empregadas domésticas, faxineiras, trabalhadores de aplicativos, ambulantes, flanelinhas, motoboys, cicloboys, entre outros teriam que optar entre ficar sem dinheiro ou sair as ruas em busca de trabalho. Ainda que estes trabalhadores contraiam o vírus e fiquem doentes, a tendência é que eles continuem trabalhando pois no mercado informal não tem nenhum tipo de proteção. Imagine este cenário de pessoas com o COVID-19 nas ruas entregando comida, dirigindo Uber, motos, vendendo coisas nas ruas, limpando casas… Imaginem estas pessoas andando nos trens, ônibus, metros lotados. O vírus vai para a periferia, mas volta com tudo pois estas pessoas atendem justamente estes que se julgariam protegidos. O risco é intensificar comportamentos de cunho fascista, racista, xenofóbico.

O segundo motivo é o desmonte do sistema público de saúde que está enfraquecido para o enfrentamento massivo desta epidemia. Este é o momento que mais se precisa do SUS e todo o seu arcabouço de atendimento, prevenção, medicina da família, entre outros. E da estrutura dos laboratórios públicos de pesquisa das universidades e institutos como o Fiocruz, Manguinhos, FURP e das universidades públicas. ‌ ‌

Só para lembrar: 47,3% dos trabalhadores negros estão no mercado informal, 80% dos usuários do SUS se declaram negros. Em outras palavras, estamos falando de situações que atingem a população negra na sua maioria.

Daí que é o momento ímpar para se retomar a pactuação político-social da Constituinte de 1988 e barrar as mudanças de cunho neoliberal que tem sido feitas desde o golpe de 2016. É necessário revogar a emenda constitucional do teto de gastos, fortalecer o SUS e os laboratórios públicos e centrar a política de Estado não no “equilíbrio fiscal para obter a confiança dos mercados”, mas na capacidade de atendimento social massivo para garantir o bem-estar de todos os cidadãos. ‌ ‌

*Este artigo não reflete, necessariamente, a opinião da Fórum

Mike Davis: O coronavírus e a luta de classes: o monstro bate à nossa porta (Blog da Boitempo)

O perigo que a atual epidemia do COVID-19 representa para as populações pobres de todo o mundo vem sendo quase completamente ignorado pelos jornalistas e governos do ocidente.

Publicado em 16/03/2020

Por Mike Davis.

O coronavírus1 é o velho filme que temos assistido repetidas vezes desde que o livro Zona Quente, de Richard Preston, nos introduziu em 1995 ao demônio exterminador nascido em uma misteriosa caverna de morcegos na África Central e conhecido como Ebola. Aquele foi apenas o primeiro de toda uma sucessão de novas doenças irrompendo no “campo virgem” (esse é o termo adequado) dos sistemas imunes inexperientes da humanidade. Depois do vírus da Ebola, logo se seguiu a influenza aviária, que os humanos pegaram em 1997, e a SARS, que surgiu no final de 2002. Em ambos os casos, a doença surgiu primeiro em Guangzhou, o polo manufatureiro mundial.

Hollywood, é claro, abraçou com tudo esses surtos e produziu uma série de filmes para nos provocar e amedrontar – Contágio (2001), dirigido por Steven Soderbergh, se destaca pela precisão científica e pela sua espantosa antecipação do caos atual.) Além dos filmes e dos inúmeros romances lúgubres, centenas de livros de milhares de artigos científicos responderam a cada surto, muitos deles sublinhando o estado deplorável da prevenção e preparação emergencial global de se detectar e reagir a tais doenças novas.

Caos numérico

Assim, o coronavírus atravessa nossa porta da frente como um monstro já familiar. Sequenciar seu genoma (aliás muito semelhante ao de sua irmã, a amplamente estudada SARS) foi moleza. Ainda nos faltam, no entanto, os pedaços mais vitais de informação. À medida que os pesquisadores trabalham noite e dia para conseguir caracterizar o surto, eles enfrentam três enormes desafios. Em primeiro lugar, a continuada escassez de kits para diagnóstico da infecção viral, especialmente nos Estados Unidos e na África, tem impedido a projeção de estimativas precisas de parâmetros-chave, tais como a taxa de reprodução, o tamanho da população infectada e a quantidade de infecções de caráter benigno. O resultado vem sendo um completo caos numérico.

Alguns países, contudo, dispõem de dados mais confiáveis a respeito do impacto do vírus em certos grupos. E as informações são muito assustadoras. A Itália, por exemplo, registra uma espantosa taxa de mortalidade de 23% entre as pessoas maiores de 65 anos de idade; na Inglaterra, a cifra atualmente se encontra no patamar dos 18% para esse grupo. A “gripe corona” que Trump menospreza representa um perigo sem precedentes para populações geriátricas, com um potencial saldo de mortalidade na casa dos milhões.

Em segundo lugar, assim como as influenzas sazonais, o vírus está sofrendo mutações à medida que atravessa populações dotadas de diferentes composições etárias e condições de saúde. A variedade que os estadunidenses têm mais probabilidade de acabar pegando já é ligeiramente diferente daquela identificada no surto original em Wuhan. As futuras mutações do vírus podem tanto ser benignas quanto alterar a distribuição de virulência, que atualmente cresce vertiginosamente a partir dos cinquenta anos de idade A “gripe corona” de Trump representa no mínimo um perigo mortal ao quarto dos estadunidenses que são de idade, possuem sistemas imunes fracos ou problemas respiratórios crônicos.

Em terceiro lugar, mesmo se o vírus permanecer estável e sofrer poucas mutações, é possível que seu impacto sobre coortes etários mais jovens difira radicalmente em países pobres e entre grupos de alta pobreza. Considere a experiência global da gripe espanhola de 1918-19, que, estima-se, matou cerca de 1-2% da humanidade. Nos Estados Unidos e na Europa Ocidental, o vírus original do H1N1 teve maior índice de letalidade em jovens adultos, e a explicação que geralmente se dá para tanto é que seus sistemas imunes relativamente mais fortes acabavam reagindo com demasiada intensidade à infecção e atacarem células pulmonares, o que acarretava uma pneumonia viral e um choque séptico. Mais recentemente, contudo, alguns epidemiologistas levantaram a hipótese de que adultos mais velhos podem ter adquirido “memória imune” por conta de um surto anterior ocorrido na década de 1890s que teria os protegido. De todo modo, é sabido que o vírus original da H1N1 encontrou um nicho privilegiado em acampamentos do exército e em trincheiras de batalha, onde ele ceifou a vida de dezenas de milhares de jovens soldados. Esse tornou-se um fator importantíssimo na batalha entre os impérios. Chegou-se a atribuir o colapso da grande ofensiva alemã na primavera de 1918, e portanto o resultado da guerra, ao fato de que os Aliados, em contraste com seu inimigo, tinham condições de reabastecer seus exércitos doentes com tropas estadunidenses recém-chegadas.

Já a gripe espanhola em países mais pobres teve um perfil diferente. Raramente se leva em conta que 60% da mortalidade global (e isso representa ao menos 20 milhões de mortes) ocorreu em Punjabi, Pompéia, e em outras partes da Índia Ocidental onde exportações de grão para a Inglaterra e práticas brutais de requisição coincidiram com uma seca generalizada. As escassezes alimentares que resultaram disso levaram milhões de pobres à beira da fome. Essas populações tornaram-se vítimas de uma sinistra sinergia entre subnutrição, que suprimia sua resposta imune à infecção, e surtos desenfreados de pneumonias virais e bacterianas. Em outro caso semelhante, o Irã sob ocupação inglesa, tendo passado por muitos anos de seca, cólera e escassez alimentar, além de um surto generalizado de malária, precondicionou a morte de, estima-se, um quinto da população.

Essa história – especialmente as consequências desconhecidas das interações com subnutrição e infecções existentes – deveria nos alertar que o COVID-19 pode tomar um caminho diferente e mais letal nas favelas densas e insalubres da África e do Sul Asiático. Com casos agora sendo reportados em Lagos, Kigali, Addis Ababa e Kinshasa, ninguém sabe (e nem saberá por um bom tempo por conta da ausência de testes para diagnóstico) de que forma ele pode entrar em sinergia com as condições locais de saúde e as doenças da região. O perigo desse fenômeno para as populações pobres de todo o mundo vem sendo quase completamente ignorado por jornalistas e governos ocidentais. O único artigo publicado que li nesse sentido argumenta que por conta do fato da população urbana da África ser a mais jovem do mundo, a pandemia deve produzir lá apenas um impacto ameno. À luz da experiência de 1918, essa não passa de uma extrapolação tola. Assim como a suposição de que a pandemia, assim como a gripe sazonal, irá recuar diante de climas mais quentes. (Tom Hanks acabou de pegar o vírus na Austrália, onde ainda é verão.)

Um Katrina médico

É possível que daqui a um ano vejamos com admiração o sucesso da China em conter a pandemia, e que fiquemos horrorizados com o fracasso dos EUA. (Estou aqui fazendo a suposição heróica de que a declaração da China de que a taxa de transmissão está diminuindo rapidamente é mais ou menos precisa.) A incapacidade de nossas instituições de manter fechada a Caixa de Pandora, é claro, não é surpresa para ninguém. Desde o ano 2000 temos repetidamente visto colapsos na linha de frente do atendimento de saúde.

Tanto temporada de gripe de 2009 quanto a de 2018, por exemplo, sobrecarregaram hospitais em todo o país, expondo a chocante escassez de leitos hospitalares depois de vinte anos de cortes na capacidade de internação movidos pela maximização dos lucros (a versão do setor hospitalar para a gestão de inventário just-in-time). A crise remonta à ofensiva corporativa que levou Reagan ao poder e converteu lideranças do Partido Democrata em seus porta-vozes neoliberais. De acordo com A Associação Hospitalar Estadunidense, o número de leitos hospitalares sofreu um espantoso declínio de 39% entre 1981 e 1999. O objetivo era elevar os lucros através de um aumento no “censo” (calculado a partir do número de leitos ocupados). Mas o objetivo da gerência de uma taxa de ocupação de 90% significava que os hospitais não tinham mais a capacidade de absorver um influxo de pacientes em situações de epidemia e de emergência médica.

Hospitais privados e de caridade fechando as portas e carências de enfermagem, igualmente provocados pela lógica de mercado, devastaram os serviços de saúde em comunidades mais pobres e em áreas rurais, transferindo o fardo para hospitais públicos subfinanciados e instalações médicas do Departamento de Assuntos de Veteranos dos EUA. Se as condições do atendimento emergencial em tais instituições já são incapazes de dar conta de infecções sazonais, como esperar que elas deem conta de uma iminente sobrecarga de casos críticos?

No novo século, a medicina emergencial continuou a sofrer reduções no setor privado por conta do imperativo de se preservar o “valor dos acionistas”, buscando o aumento de dividendos e lucros de curto prazo, e no setor público por meio de austeridade fiscal e reduções nos orçamentos estaduais e federias de prevenção e preparação emergencial. O resultado disso é que há apenas 45.000 leitos de UTI disponíveis para lidar com a avalanche projetada de casos graves e críticos de coronavírus. (Em comparação, os sul coreanos dispõem de três vezes mais leitos por milhar do que os estadunidenses.) De acordo com uma investigação feita pela USA Today “apenas oito estados teriam leitos hospitalares suficientes para tratar os 1 milhão de americanos de sessenta ou mais anos de idade que podem adoecer de COVID-19”.

Ao mesmo tempo, os Republicanos vem rechaçando todos os esforços de reconstruir as redes de segurança destruídas pelos cortes orçamentários da recessão de 2008. Os departamentos municipais e estaduais de saúde – a primeira (e vital) linha de defesa – dispõem hoje de equipes 25% menores do que crise financeira doze anos atrás. Além disso, ao longo da última década o orçamento dos Centros de Controle e Prevenção de Doenças caiu 10% em termos reais. Desde a coroação de Trump as insuficiências fiscais só se exacerbaram. O New York Times recentemente noticiou que “21% dos departamentos municipais de saúde registraram reduções nos seus orçamentos para o ano fiscal referente a 2017.” Trump também fechou o escritório de pandemia da Casa Branca, uma diretoria instituída pelo Obama depois do surto de Ebola em 2014 para garantir uma resposta nacional rápida e bem-coordenada para novas epidemias.

Estamos nas fases iniciais de um Katrina médico. Ao desinvestirmos em prevenção e preparação emergencial médica no exato momento em que todas as avaliações de peritos recomendam uma expansão generalizada dessas capacidades, nos encontramos em uma situação em que nos faltam tanto suprimentos elementares quanto funcionários públicos de saúde e leitos emergenciais. As reservas nacionais e regionais de mantimentos hospitalares vêm sendo armazenadas em condições muito inferiores às orientações epidemiológicas. Por isso, a débacle de kits para testes de diagnóstico coincidiu com uma escassez crítica de equipamentos protetivos básicos para trabalhadores de saúde.

As enfermeiras militantes, nossa reserva nacional de consciência social, estão garantindo que todos nós compreendamos os graves perigos provocados pelo armazenamento inadequado de mantimentos protetivos essenciais tais como máscaras faciais N95. Elas também nos lembram que os hospitais tornaram-se ambientes ideais para micro-organismos super-resistentes a antibióticos, tais como o C. Difficile, que podem tornar-se seríssimos agentes mortais secundários em alas hospitalares superlotadas. Ainda mais vulneráveis porque invisíveis são as centenas de milhares de trabalhadoras de lares de repouso e as equipes de enfermagem domiciliar, operando em condições de sub-remuneração e sobrecarga de trabalho.

A divisão de classes

O surto expôs instantaneamente a marcada divisão de classes no atendimento de saúde, que a Nossa Revolução colocou na agenda nacional. Em suma: quem dispõe de um bom plano de saúde e também tem condições de trabalhar ou lecionar de casa está confortavelmente isolado, contanto que siga com prudência as diretrizes de segurança. Funcionários públicos e outros grupos de trabalhadores sindicalizados que gozam de uma cobertura decente terão de fazer escolhas difíceis, optando entre renda e proteção. Enquanto isso, milhões de trabalhadores de baixa renda do setor de serviços, trabalhadores agrícolas, desempregados e sem teto estão sendo atirados aos lobos.

Mesmo se Washington eventualmente der conta de resolver o fiasco dos testes e fornecer um número adequado de kits para diagnóstico, aqueles que não dispõem de plano de saúde ainda terão de pagar médicos ou hospitais para que estes apliquem os testes. As contas médicas familiares gerais vão disparar, ao mesmo tempo em que milhões de trabalhadores estão perdendo seus empregos e os planos de saúde fornecidos pelos empregadores. Poderia haver defesa mais forte e mais urgente da proposta de se estender o Medicare para todos?

Mas, como todos sabemos, cobertura universal em qualquer sentido minimamente eficaz requer provisão universal de ausências remuneradas por motivo de saúde. Quarenta e cinco por cento da força de trabalho atualmente tem esse direito negado: essas pessoas são portanto virtualmente compelidos a transmitirem a infecção ou abrirem mão da renda mensal. Da mesma forma, quatorze estados governados pelo Partido Republicano se recusaram a implementar a Affordable Care Act3, que expande o Medicaid aos trabalhadores pobres. É por isso que um em cada quarto texanos, por exemplo, não dispõe de cobertura e só pode contar com a sala emergencial do hospital municipal se precisar se tratar.

As contradições mortais dos planos privados de saúde em uma era de pragas são talvez mais visíveis no setor de enfermagem domiciliar e cuidado assistido, que administra 2,5 milhões de estadunidenses de idade – muitos deles dependentes de Medicare. A situação há muito constitui um escândalo nacional. Trata-se de um setor altamente competitivo, capitalizado em salários baixos, falta de pessoal e cortes ilegais de custos. De acordo com o New York Times, 380.000 pacientes de casas de repouso morrem a cada ano por conta da negligência dessas instalações diante de procedimentos básicos de controle de infecções. Muitas dessas casas de repouso – particularmente em estados do Sul do país – calculam ser mais barato arcar com as multas por violações sanitárias do que contratar funcionários adicionais e treiná-los adequadamente.

Não é de surpreender que o primeiro epicentro de transmissão comunitária foi o Life Care Center, uma casa de repouso em Kirkland, situada nos subúrbios de Seattle. Conversei com Jim Straub, um velho amigo que é líder sindical nas casas de repouso da região de Seattle e está atualmente escrevendo um artigo a respeito do tema para o The Nation. Ele caracterizou a instalação como “sendo uma das piores equipadas em de quadro de funcionários em todo o Estado” e descreveu a totalidade do sistema de casas de repouso de Washington como “o mais subfinanciado do país – um oásis absurdo de sofrimento de austeridade em um mar de dinheiro da indústria de tecnologia de ponta.”

Além disso, ele assinalou ainda que os oficiais de saúde pública estavam ignorando o fator crucial que explica a rápida taxa de transmissão da doença do Life Care Center para dez outras casas de repouso nas proximidades: “trabalhadores de casas de repouso situadas no mercado imobiliário mais caro dos Estados Unidos via de regra trabalham em mais de um emprego, geralmente atendendo em múltiplas casas de repouso.” Ele diz que as autoridades foram incapazes de descobrir os nomes e as localizações desses segundos empregos e assim perderam todo e qualquer controle sobre a disseminação do COVID-19. E até agora ninguém está propondo compensar a remuneração de trabalhadores expostos para que eles permaneçam em casa.

Agora, como nos alerta o exemplo de Seattle, mais dezenas, talvez centenas, de casas de repouso em todo o país deverão se tornar pontos de foco do coronavírus e seus funcionários, muitos deles recebendo o salário mínimo, optarão racionalmente por permanecer em casa a fim de protegerem suas famílias. Numa situação dessas, o sistema poderia entrar em colapso – e ninguém há de esperar que a Guarda Nacional venha cuidar da reposição dos coletores de urina.

Solidariedade internacional

A cada passo de seu avanço mortal, a pandemia promove uma defesa de uma política de cobertura universal e ausência remunerada no trabalho. Enquanto Biden se concentra em arranhar a popularidade de Trump, os progressistas precisam se unir, como propõe Bernie, para vencer a convenção com sua pauta de Medicare para Todos. Juntos, os delegados de Bernie Sanders e Elizabeth Warren têm um papel a desempenhar no Fiserv Forum em Milwaukee em meados de julho2, mas o resto de nós possui uma tarefa igualmente importante nas ruas, começando agora com lutas contra despejos, demissões e empregadores que se recusam a compensar trabalhadores ausentes (Está com medo de contágio? Permaneça a dois metros de distância do próximo manifestante e você ainda garante uma imagem mais poderosa para a TV. Mas precisamos reivindicar as ruas.)

Como sabemos, a cobertura universal é apenas um primeiro passo. É desapontador, para dizer o mínimo, que nos debates das primárias do Partido Democrata nem Sanders nem Warren chamaram atenção para como as grandes corporações farmacêuticas [Big Pharma] abriram mão de investir em pesquisa e desenvolvimento de novos antibióticos e antivirais. Das dezoito maiores empresas farmacêuticas, quinze abandonaram totalmente o campo. Medicamentos cardíacos, tranquilizadores viciantes e tratamentos para impotência masculina são alguns dos produtos mais lucrativos do setor, e não a defesa contra infecções hospitalares, doenças emergentes e doenças letais tradicionais dos trópicos, como a malária. A vacina universal para a influenza – isto é, uma vacina voltada para as partes imutáveis das proteínas de superfície do vírus – já é uma possibilidade há décadas, mas não é lucrativa o suficiente para ser considerada prioridade.

À medida que a revolução dos antibióticos retrocede, velhas doenças deverão reaparecer ao lado de novas infecções e os hospitais se converterão em ossuários. Até mesmo alguém como Trump pode esbravejar oportunisticamente contra os custos absurdos dos medicamentos de prescrição. O que precisamos, no entanto, é de uma visão mais audaciosa voltada para quebrar os monopólios farmacêuticos e fornecer ao público uma produção de medicamentos vitais. (As coisas já foram assim um dia: durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, o exército convocou Jonas Salk e outros pesquisadores para desenvolverem a primeira vacina de gripe.) Como escrevi quinze anos atrás em meu livro O monstro bate à nossa porta: a ameaça global da gripe aviária:

“O acesso a medicamentos vitais, incluindo vacinas, antibióticos e antivirais, deveria ser um direito humano, universalmente disponível a preço zero. Se os mercados não tiverem condições de fornecer incentivos para produzir tais drogas de maneira barata, então os governos e as organizações sem fins lucrativos deveriam assumir a responsabilidade por sua manufatura e distribuição. A sobrevivência dos pobres deve sempre ser prioridade sobre os lucros do grande complexo farmacêutico [Big Pharma].”4

A atual pandemia expande o argumento: a organização capitalista agora parece estar biologicamente insustentável na ausência de uma infraestrutura verdadeiramente internacional de saúde pública. Mas tal infraestrutura jamais existirá enquanto movimentos de pessoas não quebrarem o poder das grandes corporações farmacêuticas e de um sistema de atendimento à saúde organizado em função do lucro.

Isso exige um projeto socialista independente para a sobrevivência humana, que vai além de um Segundo New Deal. Desde a época do movimento Occupy, os progressistas vem colocado a luta contra a desigualdade econômica e de renda na ordem do dia, um grande feito. Mas agora os socialistas precisam dar o próximo passo e, tendo as indústrias farmacêutica e de saúde como alvos imediatos, lutarem pela propriedade social e a democratização do poder econômico.

Mas precisamos ter uma avaliação honesta de nossas fraquezas políticas e morais. Por mais que tenho visto com entusiasmo a evolução à esquerda de uma nova geração e o retorno da palavra “socialismo” ao discurso político, há um elemento perturbador de solipsismo nacional no movimento progressista que é simétrico ao novo nacionalismo de direita. Tendemos a falar apenas da classe trabalhadora estadunidense e da história radical dos Estados Unidos (talvez nos esquecendo que Eugene V. Debs era um internacionalista até o último fio de cabelo). Às vezes isso passa perto de uma versão de esquerda do bordão “América em Primeiro Lugar”.

Diante dessa pandemia, os socialistas devem aproveitar toda ocasião para lembrar os outros da urgência da solidariedade internacional. Concretamente, precisamos mobilizar nossos amigos progressistas e seus ídolos políticos a fim de reivindicar um aumento massivo na produção de kits para diagnóstico, equipamentos de segurança e medicamentos vitais para serem distribuídos gratuitamente a países pobres. Cabe a nós garantir que o Medicare para Todos torne-se uma tanto uma política externa quanto uma política doméstica nos EUA.

* Texto enviado pelo autor diretamente para o Blog da Boitempo. A tradução é de Artur Renzo.

NOTAS

1 Tem havido muita confusão a respeito da terminologia científica: o Comitê Internacional de Taxonomia de Vírus denominou o vírus de SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 refere-se ao surto. (Nota do autor).
2 O autor refere-se aqui à Convenção Nacional Democrata de 2020, que definirá o candidato que o Partido escolherá para enfrentar Donald Trump nas eleições presidenciais deste ano. A disputa, como se sabe, atualmente entre Joe Biden e Bernie Sanders, e o apoio da base da candidata progressista Elizabeth Warren é um fator crucial para a vitória do Sanders. (Nota da tradução.)
3 O “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” é a “Lei Federal de Proteção e Cuidado ao Paciente”, apelidada de “Obamacare”, sancionada pelo presidente estadunidense em março de 2010. (N. T.)
4 Edição brasileira: O monstro bate à nossa porta: a ameaça global da gripe aviária (São Paulo, Record, 2006). (N. T.)

***

Mike Davis nasceu na cidade de Fontana, Califórnia, em 1946. Abandonou os estudos precocemente, aos dezesseis anos, por conta de uma grave doença do pai. Trabalhou como açougueiro, motorista de caminhão e militou no Partido Comunista da Califórnia meridional antes de retornar à sala de aula. Aos 28 anos, ingressou na Universidade da Califórnia de Los Angeles (Ucla) para estudar economia e história. Atualmente, mora em San Diego, é um distinguished professor no departamento de Creative Writing na Universidade da Califórnia, em Riverside, e integra o conselho editorial da New Left Review. Autor de vários livros, entre eles Planeta favela, Apologia dos bárbaros e Cidade de quartzo. O autor também colabora com o livro de intervenção Cidades rebeldes: passe livre e as manifestações que tomaram as ruas do Brasil.

“A Time to Rethink America”: Sanders Sets Tone at Coronavirus Debate (Truthout)

Bernie Sanders speaks in front of a blue screen bearing CNN's logo
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders takes part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2020.

By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout

Published March 16, 2020

The final Democratic presidential debate of 2020 was a dispiriting affair for reasons that went far beyond the politics of it. The specter of COVID-19 lent a stark gloominess to the occasion, as did the seeming emptiness of the room itself: three CNN moderators, two men and the cameras. I never thought I’d miss a debate audience, but the energy was gone from that room, and the brightly lit set could not make up for it.

And then there’s this: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that events of 50 people or more not be held for about two months,” Bloomberg News reported on Sunday. “For the next eight weeks, organizers should cancel or postpone in-person events of that size throughout the U.S.”

Primaries are scheduled to be held on Tuesday in Arizona, Ohio, Illinois and Florida. These contests were set to be decisive before the CDC’s recommendation — if Joe Biden wins them all, his delegate lead over Bernie Sanders would become all but insurmountable — and may be all the more so now. These four primaries could be the last of the season. Georgia has postponed its primary, which was slated for next Tuesday, and Louisiana’s April 4 primary has likewise been delayed.

It’s quite simple: If we are listening to the CDC’s recommendations, the remaining primaries will probably be put on hold at some point, either until this thing burns itself out, or altogether depending on the circumstances. The primaries this Tuesday may happen, or they may not, but no one should be surprised if they are the last ones for a long while.

“Election dates are very, very important. We don’t want to be getting into the habit of messing around with them,” Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in a post-debate interview. “I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts, and what they are saying is … ‘We don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people.’ I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks registering people to enroll, that stuff. Does that make a lot of sense? I’m not sure that it does.”

A cancelled primary election season would be the worst of all possible outcomes, and not just because Joe Biden would basically become the Democratic nominee by default. We do elections in this country, because if we don’t, we have lost all semblance of democracy. That all-important sentiment falls to ashes in the face of the coronavirus, which has the potential to lay waste to the nation’s older and immunocompromised population if not contained.

Authorities not named Donald Trump have been warning us this situation would bring sweeping changes to our lives, and they haven’t been wrong. A shortened 2020 Democratic nomination process may soon become part of that change, so the ability of either candidate to increase their nomination chances felt blunted by the same circumstances that led them to debate each other in that bright, empty room.

Joe Biden is fortunate that Bernie Sanders was feeling conciliatory under the circumstances, because Biden lied, lied and lied throughout the evening.

Sanders was strong throughout, opening the evening with a broadside against Wall Street and the wealthy, who were taken care of by the Federal Reserve in fine style on Friday. The Fed conjured $1.5 trillion in magic money and dumped it into the banking system so businesses can still borrow without breaking themselves financially. By the end of the weekend, the interest rate had been cut to basically zero.

“Bottom line from an economic point of view,” said Sanders, “what we have got to say to the American people, if you lose your job, you will be made whole. You’re not going to lose income. If Trump can put, or the fed can put a trillion and a half into the banking system, we can protect the wages of every worker in America.”

Biden, for his part, came into the evening looking to survive without damaging himself too badly. In this, he had help from an unlikely source: his opponent. While Sanders repeatedly sought to hold Biden’s feet to the fire on various aspects of the former vice president’s voting record, it became clear early on that Sanders was not out for blood.

“I know your heart is in the right place,” Sanders said to Biden on more than one occasion, a rhetorical fig leaf intended to convey the sense that Trump is the main enemy, and these two presidential candidates share many areas of common ground. “We talk about the Green New Deal and all of these things in general terms,” said Sanders toward the end of the first hour, “but details make a difference.”

Joe Biden is fortunate that Bernie Sanders was feeling conciliatory under the circumstances, and more fortunate the CNN moderators appeared unwilling to do their jobs, because Biden lied, lied and lied again throughout the evening. When tasked to defend his serially gruesome legislative record, Biden sailed off into the land of self-serving fantasy so often that #LyinBiden and #LyingJoe were top trends on Twitter all night long.

Biden has been lying about his stance on Social Security for months now, but found a whole new gear last night. He lied straight into the camera about statements he has made and votes he has cast, as if he’d forgotten that the internet exists and such brazen bullshit artistry doesn’t fly so well anymore.

Biden was similarly slippery on his support of the bankruptcy bill, on the Hyde Amendment and reproductive rights, on his vote for the Iraq War, on the Defense of Marriage Act, and on any and all areas where his record fails to meet the standard Sanders set simply by being in the room. One of the two candidates last night spent the last 30 years being right on the signal issues of the day, and it showed.

“A time to rethink America,” indeed.

“The fact is that the idea that I in fact supported the things that you suggested is not accurate,” was a typical Biden response to Sanders throughout the evening. The CNN moderators didn’t bother trying to call Biden on his loose relationship with the truth, but Sanders persistently did so.

Biden’s most newsworthy moment of the evening came when he flatly declared that he would select a woman to serve as his vice president. “I commit that I’ll pick a woman to be vice president,” said Biden. “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow, I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”

This was, among other things, Joe Biden paying a debt to Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement before the South Carolina primary resurrected Biden’s moribund campaign. Clyburn has made it clear that he wants Biden to select a woman for a running mate, and preferably a Black woman. Biden’s announcement last night was a “Yes, sir” telegraphed to the House majority whip via live television broadcast.

For Sanders, this debate was perhaps his last, best opportunity to make the case for his vision for the presidency as clearly as possible. As usual, he did not disappoint:

In this moment of economic uncertainty, in addition to the coronavirus, it is time to ask how we get to where we are, not only our lack of preparation for the virus, but how we end up with an economy, with so many about people are hurting at a time of massive income and wealth inequality. It is time to ask the question of where the power is in America. Who owns the media? Who owns the economy? Who owns the legislative process? Why do we give tax breaks to billionaires and not raise the minimum wage?

Why do we pump up the oil industry while a half a million people are homeless in America? This is the time to move aggressively, dealing with the coronavirus crisis, to deal with the economic fallout, but it’s also a time to rethink America, and create a country where we care about each other, rather than a nation of greed and corruption, which is what is taking place among the corporate elite.

“A time to rethink America,” indeed. A great many sacred cows — most especially capitalism and its deleterious effect on health care — are on their way to the coronavirus slaughterhouse. Whether or not we proceed with the remaining primaries, we will be other than what we are as a nation when we come out the far side of this. Bernie Sanders told us as much last night, just as he has for the full term of his public life. If and how we heed him, finally, will be up to us in the end.

William Rivers Pitt is a senior editor and lead columnist at Truthout. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.

How Spanish flu helped create Sweden’s modern welfare state (The Guardian)

The 1918 pandemic ravaged the remote city of Östersund. But its legacy is a city – and country – well-equipped to deal with 21st century challenges

Brian Melican

Wed 29 Aug 2018 07.15 BST Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 12.47 GMT

Archive black and white picture Östersund
Spanish flu reached Östersund a century ago. Photograph: Alamy

On 15 September 1918, a 12-year-old boy named Karl Karlsson who lived just outside Östersund, Sweden, wrote a short diary entry: “Two who died of Spanish flu buried today. A few snowflakes in the air.”

For all its brevity and matter-of-fact tone, Karlsson’s journal makes grim reading. It is 100 years since a particularly virulent strain of avian flu, known as the Spanish flu despite probably originating in America, ravaged the globe, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. While its effects were felt everywhere, it struck particularly hard in Östersund, earning the city the nickname “capital of the Spanish flu”.

“Looking back through contemporaneous accounts was quite creepy,” says Jim Hedlund at the city’s state archive. “As many people died in two months as generally died in a whole year. I even found out that three of my forbears were buried on the same day.”

There were three main reasons why the flu hit this remote city so hard: Östersund had speedy railway connections, several army regiments stationed in close quarters and a malnourished population living in cramped accommodation. As neutral Sweden kept its armed forces on high alert between 1914 and 1918, the garrison town’s population swelled from 9,000 to 13,000.

By 1917, when navvies poured in and construction started on an inland railway to the north, widespread food shortages had led to violent workers’ demonstrations and a near mutiny among the army units.

The city became a hotbed of political activism. Its small size put the unequal distribution of wealth in early industrial society under the microscope. While working-class families crowded into insalubrious accommodation, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and further afield came for the fresh mountain air and restorative waters – as well as the excellent fishing and elk hunting (passionate angler Winston Churchill was a regular visitor).

“The catastrophic spread of the flu was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions” – Hans Jacobsson, historian

“Many of the demonstrators’ concerns seem strikingly modern,” says Hedlund, pointing to a copy of a political poster that reads: “Tourists out of our buildings in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for workers!”

It wasn’t just the urban proletariat demanding better accommodation. At Sweden’s first ever national convention of the indigenous Sami peoples held in Östersund in early 1918, delegates demanded an end to discriminatory policies that forced them to live in tents.

Social inequality in the city meant the Spanish flu hit all the harder.

As the epidemic raged in late August, when around 20 people were dying daily, the city’s bank director Carl Lignell withdrew funds from Stockholm without authorisation and requisitioned a school for use as a hospital (the city didn’t have one).

View of Ostersund
‘You can drop your kids off at kindergarten on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.’ Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TASS Advertisement

“If it hadn’t been for him, Östersund might quite literally have disappeared,” says Hedlund. For a brief period, Lignell worked like a benevolent dictator, quarantining suspected cases in their homes – and revealing the squalor in which they lived.

As his hastily convened medical team moved through Östersund, they found whole families crowded into wooden shacks, just a few streets away from the proud, stone-built civic structures. In some homes, sick children lay on the floor for want of beds.

The local newspaper Östersunds-Posten asked rhetorically: “Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution?”

People of all political convictions and stations in life started cooperating in a city otherwise riven by the class divisions of early industrial society. Östersunds-Posten itself moved from simply reporting on the epidemic to helping to organise relief, publishing calls for money, food and clothing, and opening its offices for use as storerooms. The state had proven itself inadequate, as historian Hans Jacobsson wrote: “The catastrophic spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions.”

“After the epidemic, the state made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform” – Jim Hedlund, archivist

He cites the fact that Stockholm High Command refused to halt planned military exercises for weeks, despite the fact that regimental sickbays were overflowing. “What is interesting is that, after the epidemic, the state dropped investigations against Lignell and made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were on the political agenda,” says Hedlund. Anyone trying to date the inception of Sweden’s welfare state cannot overlook the events of autumn 1918.

One hundred years on, there are few better places than Östersund to see the effects of Sweden’s much-vaunted social model. The city is once again growing rapidly, but nothing could seem further away than epidemics and political radicalism. The left of centre Social Democrats have been in power in city hall since 1994, and council leader AnnSofie Andersson has made housing a priority – new developments are spacious, well-ordered and equipped with schools and playgrounds.

“There’s nothing that shows confidence like building stuff,” she says. “In fact, our local authority building partnership should, in my view, keep a small excess of flats in hand, because without a reserve people won’t move here.”

Östersund attracts a net inflow of people from southern Sweden. “It’s partly a quality of life issue,” says Andersson. “You can drop your kids off at kindergarten in the morning on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.”

The city has recovered from the relocation of the Swedish armed forces fighter jet squadron in the 1990s by playing to its strengths: sports and tourism. A university now occupies the old barracks with a special focus on sports materials and technology. The airbase has become a thriving airport, handling half a million passengers a year.

Despite the net inflow of working-age people however, Östersund is facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers begin to retire. The shortages are being felt most acutely at the regional health authority, which occupies the Epidemisjukhusthe building hastily converted into wards during the Spanish flu by Carl Lignell. Clinical staff are proving hard to find and retain, and the region’s health service is underfunded. Some residents still suggest solving that lack of funding from central government “the Jämtland way”, like Lignell once did.

History doesn’t repeat itself identically, though. Sweden’s consensus-orientated political model now tends to defuse conflict even in proud cities with a liking for mavericks. One of Andersson’s strategies for dealing with the approaching lack of labour, for instance, is cooperating with local and national institutions to train up the young refugees the city has welcomed since 2015.

“School starts tomorrow – for the last time,” confides Karl Karlsson to his journal on 4 September 1918. “I leave in spring and it feels melancholy. I like farming, but I would still prefer to continue at school and study. But it’s impossible.” Ten days later, he notes that his family’s food stores are running low. “We’re almost out of flour and bread, the barley hasn’t dried yet, and we shan’t get any more rations, everything is being requisitioned.”

One hundred years later, a city – and a society – once unable to educate or even feed its youth is now one of the world’s wealthiest and fairest.

Coronavírus e as quebradas: 16 perguntas ainda sem resposta sobre impacto da pandemia nas periferias (Periferia em Movimento)

Publicado porThiago Borges –

Precisamos falar sobre o novo coronavírus, mas sem pânico.

Nesta quinta-feira (12/03), o Brasil acordou com 52 pessoas infectadas pelo coronavírus e foi dormir com 69 casos confirmados. Em todo o mundo, são 122 mil casos confirmados e mais de 4.500 mortes registradas. A Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) declarou pandemia, isto é, o vírus deixou de ser restrito determinadas regiões e passa a ser uma questão de saúde pública global.

A taxa de mortalidade do novo vírus, ainda sem vacina, é considerada baixa – em torno de 3% dos casos – e atinge principalmente pessoas com maior vulnerabilidade, como idosos ou com doenças pré-existentes (como diabetes, câncer, etc.).

Com mais de 50 casos no País, o Ministério da Saúde do governo de Jair Bolsonaro alerta que a transmissão deve se dar de forma geométrica – isto é, deixa de ser restrita a pessoas que se infectaram em outras regiões do mundo e passa a acontecer no próprio território.

Segundo o Instituto Pensi do Hospital Infantil Sabará, após atingir 50 casos confirmados o total de infectados no Brasil pode aumentar para 4.000 casos em 15 dias e cerca de 30.000 depois de 21 dias.

Com isso, o vírus deve se expandir rapidamente nas próximas semanas e o Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS) precisaria de 3.200 novos leitos em UTI (Unidade de Terapia Intensiva) para dar conta da demanda – 95% dos 16.000 leitos de hoje já estão ocupados.

Dito isso, nós moradoras e moradores de periferias urbanas, povos da floresta e marginalizados em geral, precisamos nos atentar com as medidas de prevenção (confira no gráfico abaixo) mas também com efeitos colaterais dessa pandemia no nosso dia a dia.

Muito se fala no impacto da pandemia sobre a economia global. Mas em um País marcado por desigualdade social, machismo, racismo e LGBTfobia, com cortes em políticas públicas e desemprego recorde, o coronavírus tem potencial de impactar não apenas nossa saúde como também nossa frágil convivência em sociedade. Precisamos de solidariedade e vigilância nesse momento.

Por isso, a Periferia em Movimento faz 16 perguntas ainda sem resposta (a lista continua em atualização) sobre esse novo cenário:

1. As periferias vão receber recursos da saúde de forma proporcional às nossas necessidades?

2. O governo vai adotar medidas de confinamento ou restrição de circulação de pessoas?

3. Como fazer quarentena em área de aglomeração, como periferias e favelas?

4. Os governantes vão acionar a Polícia Militar pra controlar a população nas periferias?

5. Se rolar quarentena, quem vai dirigir os ônibus, fazer o pão de cada dia e entregar a comida do ifood no apartamento da classe média?

6. Com o desemprego recorde e o mercado informal em alta, pessoas que vivem de bico vão conseguir fazer dinheiro como?

7. Se as aulas forem suspensas, com quem ficarão as crianças que frequentam creches em período integral?

8. Sem aulas, sem merenda: estudantes em situação de insegurança alimentar vão passar fome se não forem pra escola?

9. Ainda sobre a suspensão das aulas, qual é o risco da explosão de casos de violência sexual contra crianças e adolescentes – que passarão mais tempo em casa?

10. O maior tempo em casa também aumenta o risco de mulheres sofrerem violência de seus companheiros?

11. E com mais pessoas com circulação restrita, o risco de conflitos em comunidades também aumenta?

12. Como os governantes avaliam as possibilidades de aumento em todos os tipos de violência com essa pandemia?

13. Como idosos em situação de vulnerabilidade serão assistidos pelo governo?

14. De que forma, a pandemia deve impactar a população em situação de rua?

15. Como ficam os presidiários, que já vivem em situações de aglomeração, tortura e com doenças que estão controladas no mundo externo?

16. E como serão atendidos os indígenas, que necessitam de estratégias específicas de saúde devido à menor imunidade a doenças transmitidas desde a invasão europeia ao continente americano?

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Algoritmos das rede sociais promovem preconceito e desigualdade, diz matemática de Harvard (BBC Brasil)

AlgoritmosPara Cathy O’Neil, por trás da aparente imparcialidade ddos algoritmos escondem-se critérios nebulosos que agravam injustiças. GETTY IMAGES

Eles estão por toda parte. Nos formulários que preenchemos para vagas de emprego. Nas análises de risco a que somos submetidos em contratos com bancos e seguradoras. Nos serviços que solicitamos pelos nossos smartphones. Nas propagandas e nas notícias personalizadas que abarrotam nossas redes sociais. E estão aprofundando o fosso da desigualdade social e colocando em risco as democracias.

Definitivamente, não é com entusiasmo que a americana Cathy O’Neil enxerga a revolução dos algoritmos, sistemas capazes de organizar uma quantidade cada vez mais impressionante de informações disponíveis na internet, o chamado Big Data.

Matemática com formação em Harvard e Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), duas das mais prestigiadas universidades do mundo, ela abandonou em 2012 uma bem-sucedida carreira no mercado financeiro e na cena das startups de tecnologia para estudar o assunto a fundo.

Quatro anos depois, publicou o livro Weapons of Math Destruction (Armas de Destruição em Cálculos, em tradução livre, um trocadilho com a expressão “armas de destruição em massa” em inglês) e tornou-se uma das vozes mais respeitadas no país sobre os efeitos colaterais da economia do Big Data.

A obra é recheada de exemplos de modelos matemáticos atuais que ranqueiam o potencial de seres humanos como estudantes, trabalhadores, criminosos, eleitores e consumidores. Segundo a autora, por trás da aparente imparcialidade desses sistemas, escondem-se critérios nebulosos que agravam injustiças.

É o caso dos seguros de automóveis nos Estados Unidos. Motoristas que nunca tomaram uma multa sequer, mas que tinham restrições de crédito por morarem em bairros pobres, pagavam valores consideravelmente mais altos do que aqueles com facilidade de crédito, mas já condenados por dirigirem embriagados. “Para a seguradora, é um ganha-ganha. Um bom motorista com restrição de crédito representa um risco baixo e um retorno altíssimo”, exemplifica.

Confira abaixo os principais trechos da entrevista:

BBC Brasil – Há séculos pesquisadores analisam dados para entender padrões de comportamento e prever acontecimentos. Qual é novidade trazida pelo Big Data?

Cathy O’Neil – O diferencial do Big Data é a quantidade de dados disponíveis. Há uma montanha gigantesca de dados que se correlacionam e que podem ser garimpados para produzir a chamada “informação incidental”. É incidental no sentido de que uma determinada informação não é fornecida diretamente – é uma informação indireta. É por isso que as pessoas que analisam os dados do Twitter podem descobrir em qual político eu votaria. Ou descobrir se eu sou gay apenas pela análise dos posts que curto no Facebook, mesmo que eu não diga que sou gay.

Ambiente de trabalho automatizado‘Essa ideia de que os robôs vão substituir o trabalho humano é muito fatalista. É preciso reagir e mostrar que essa é uma batalha política’, diz autora. GETTY IMAGES

A questão é que esse processo é cumulativo. Agora que é possível descobrir a orientação sexual de uma pessoa a partir de seu comportamento nas redes sociais, isso não vai ser “desaprendido”. Então, uma das coisas que mais me preocupam é que essas tecnologias só vão ficar melhores com o passar do tempo. Mesmo que as informações venham a ser limitadas – o que eu acho que não vai acontecer – esse acúmulo de conhecimento não vai se perder.

BBC Brasil – O principal alerta do seu livro é de que os algoritmos não são ferramentas neutras e objetivas. Pelo contrário: eles são enviesados pelas visões de mundo de seus programadores e, de forma geral, reforçam preconceitos e prejudicam os mais pobres. O sonho de que a internet pudesse tornar o mundo um lugar melhor acabou?

O’Neil – É verdade que a internet fez do mundo um lugar melhor em alguns contextos. Mas, se colocarmos numa balança os prós e os contras, o saldo é positivo? É difícil dizer. Depende de quem é a pessoa que vai responder. É evidente que há vários problemas. Só que muitos exemplos citados no meu livro, é importante ressaltar, não têm nada a ver com a internet. As prisões feitas pela polícia ou as avaliações de personalidade aplicadas em professores não têm a ver estritamente com a internet. Não há como evitar que isso seja feito, mesmo que as pessoas evitem usar a internet. Mas isso foi alimentado pela tecnologia de Big Data.

Por exemplo: os testes de personalidade em entrevistas de emprego. Antes, as pessoas se candidatavam a uma vaga indo até uma determinada loja que precisava de um funcionário. Mas hoje todo mundo se candidata pela internet. É isso que gera os testes de personalidade. Existe uma quantidade tão grande de pessoas se candidatando a vagas que é necessário haver algum filtro.

BBC Brasil – Qual é o futuro do trabalho sob os algoritmos?

O’Neil – Testes de personalidade e programas que filtram currículos são alguns exemplos de como os algoritmos estão afetando o mundo do trabalho. Isso sem mencionar os algoritmos que ficam vigiando as pessoas enquanto elas trabalham, como é o caso de professores e caminhoneiros. Há um avanço da vigilância. Se as coisas continuarem indo do jeito como estão, isso vai nos transformar em robôs.

Reprodução de propaganda no Facebook usada para influenciar as eleições nos EUAReprodução de propaganda no Facebook usada para influenciar as eleições nos EUA: ‘não deveriam ser permitidos anúncios personalizados, customizados’, opina autora

Mas eu não quero pensar nisso como um fato inevitável – que os algoritmos vão transformar as pessoas em robôs ou que os robôs vão substituir o trabalho dos seres humanos. Eu não quero admitir isso. Isso é algo que podemos decidir que não vai acontecer. É uma decisão política. Essa ideia de que os robôs vão substituir o trabalho humano é muito fatalista. É preciso reagir e mostrar que essa é uma batalha política. O problema é que estamos tão intimidados pelo avanço dessas tecnologias que sentimos que não há como lutar contra.

BBC Brasil – E no caso das companhias de tecnologia como a Uber? Alguns estudiosos usam o termo “gig economy” (economia de “bicos”) para se referir à organização do trabalho feita por empresas que utilizam algoritmos.

O’Neil – Esse é um ótimo exemplo de como entregamos o poder a essas empresas da gig economy, como se fosse um processo inevitável. Certamente, elas estão se saindo muito bem na tarefa de burlar legislações trabalhistas, mas isso não quer dizer que elas deveriam ter permissão para agir dessa maneira. Essas companhias deveriam pagar melhores remunerações e garantir melhores condições de trabalho.

No entanto, os movimentos que representam os trabalhadores ainda não conseguiram assimilar as mudanças que estão ocorrendo. Mas essa não é uma questão essencialmente algorítmica. O que deveríamos estar perguntando é: como essas pessoas estão sendo tratadas? E, se elas não estão sendo bem tratadas, deveríamos criar leis para garantir isso.

Eu não estou dizendo que os algoritmos não têm nada a ver com isso – eles têm, sim. É uma forma que essas companhias usam para dizer que elas não podem ser consideradas “chefes” desses trabalhadores. A Uber, por exemplo, diz que os motoristas são autônomos e que o algoritmo é o chefe. Esse é um ótimo exemplo de como nós ainda não entendemos o que se entende por “responsabilidade” no mundo dos algoritmos. Essa é uma questão em que venho trabalhando há algum tempo: que pessoas vão ser responsabilizadas pelos erros dos algoritmos?

BBC Brasil – No livro você argumenta que é possível criar algoritmos para o bem – o principal desafio é garantir transparência. Porém, o segredo do sucesso de muitas empresas é justamente manter em segredo o funcionamento dos algoritmos. Como resolver a contradição?

O’Neil – Eu não acho que seja necessária transparência para que um algoritmo seja bom. O que eu preciso saber é se ele funciona bem. Eu preciso de indicadores de que ele funciona bem, mas isso não quer dizer que eu necessite conhecer os códigos de programação desse algoritmo. Os indicadores podem ser de outro tipo – é mais uma questão de auditoria do que de abertura dos códigos.

A melhor maneira de resolver isso é fazer com que os algoritmos sejam auditados por terceiros. Não é recomendável confiar nas próprias empresas que criaram os algoritmos. Precisaria ser um terceiro, com legitimidade, para determinar se elas estão operando de maneira justa – a partir da definição de alguns critérios de justiça – e procedendo dentro da lei.

Cathy O'NeilPara Cathy O’Neil, polarização política e fake news só vão parar se “fecharmos o Facebook”. DIVULGAÇÃO

BBC Brasil – Recentemente, você escreveu um artigo para o jornal New York Times defendendo que a comunidade acadêmica participe mais dessa discussão. As universidades poderiam ser esse terceiro de que você está falando?

O’Neil – Sim, com certeza. Eu defendo que as universidades sejam o espaço para refletir sobre como construir confiabilidade, sobre como requerer informações para determinar se os algoritmos estão funcionando.

BBC Brasil – Quando vieram a público as revelações de Edward Snowden de que o governo americano espionava a vida das pessoas através da internet, muita gente não se surpreendeu. As pessoas parecem dispostas a abrir mão da sua privacidade em nome da eficiência da vida virtual?

O’Neil – Eu acho que só agora estamos percebendo quais são os verdadeiros custos dessa troca. Com dez anos de atraso, estamos percebendo que os serviços gratuitos na internet não são gratuitos de maneira alguma, porque nós fornecemos nossos dados pessoais. Há quem argumente que existe uma troca consentida de dados por serviços, mas ninguém faz essa troca de forma realmente consciente – nós fazemos isso sem prestar muita atenção. Além disso, nunca fica claro para nós o que realmente estamos perdendo.

Mas não é pelo fato de a NSA (sigla em inglês para a Agência de Segurança Nacional) nos espionar que estamos entendendo os custos dessa troca. Isso tem mais a ver com os empregos que nós arrumamos ou deixamos de arrumar. Ou com os benefícios de seguros e de cartões de crédito que nós conseguimos ou deixamos de conseguir. Mas eu gostaria que isso estivesse muito mais claro.

No nível individual ainda hoje, dez anos depois, as pessoas não se dão conta do que está acontecendo. Mas, como sociedade, estamos começando a entender que fomos enganados por essa troca. E vai ser necessário um tempo para saber como alterar os termos desse acordo.

Aplicativo do Uber‘A Uber, por exemplo, diz que os motoristas são autônomos e que o algoritmo é o chefe. Esse é um ótimo exemplo de como nós ainda não entendemos o que se entende por “responsabilidade” no mundo dos algoritmos’, diz O’Neil. EPA

BBC Brasil – O último capítulo do seu livro fala sobre a vitória eleitoral de Donald Trump e avalia como as pesquisas de opinião e as redes sociais influenciaram na corrida à Casa Branca. No ano que vem, as eleições no Brasil devem ser as mais agitadas das últimas três décadas. Que conselho você daria aos brasileiros?

O’Neil – Meu Deus, isso é muito difícil! Está acontecendo em todas as partes do mundo. E eu não sei se isso vai parar, a não ser que fechem o Facebook – o que, a propósito, eu sugiro que façamos. Agora, falando sério: as campanhas políticas na internet devem ser permitidas, mas não deveriam ser permitidos anúncios personalizados, customizados – ou seja, todo mundo deveria receber os mesmos anúncios. Eu sei que essa ainda não é uma proposta realista, mas acho que deveríamos pensar grande porque esse problema é grande. E eu não consigo pensar em outra maneira de resolver essa questão.

É claro que isso seria um elemento de um conjunto maior de medidas porque nada vai impedir pessoas idiotas de acreditar no que elas querem acreditar – e de postar sobre isso. Ou seja, nem sempre é um problema do algoritmo. Às vezes, é um problema das pessoas mesmo. O fenômeno das fake news é um exemplo. Os algoritmos pioram a situação, personalizando as propagandas e amplificando o alcance, porém, mesmo que não existisse o algoritmo do Facebook e que as propagandas políticas fossem proibidas na internet, ainda haveria idiotas disseminando fake news que acabariam viralizando nas redes sociais. E eu não sei o que fazer a respeito disso, a não ser fechar as redes sociais.

Eu tenho três filhos, eles têm 17, 15 e 9 anos. Eles não usam redes sociais porque acham que são bobas e eles não acreditam em nada do que veem nas redes sociais. Na verdade, eles não acreditam em mais nada – o que também não é bom. Mas o lado positivo é que eles estão aprendendo a checar informações por conta própria. Então, eles são consumidores muito mais conscientes do que os da minha geração. Eu tenho 45 anos, a minha geração é a pior. As coisas que eu vi as pessoas da minha idade compartilhando após a eleição de Trump eram ridículas. Pessoas postando ideias sobre como colocar Hilary Clinton na presidência mesmo sabendo que Trump tinha vencido. Foi ridículo. A esperança é ter uma geração de pessoas mais espertas.

Drought Frames Economic Divide of Californians (New York Times)

COMPTON, Calif. — Alysia Thomas, a stay-at-home mother in this working-class city, tells her children to skip a bath on days when they do not play outside; that holds down the water bill. Lillian Barrera, a housekeeper who travels 25 miles to clean homes in Beverly Hills, serves dinner to her family on paper plates for much the same reason. In the fourth year of a severe drought, conservation is a fine thing, but in this Southern California community, saving water means saving money.

The challenge of California’s drought is starkly different in Cowan Heights, a lush oasis of wealth and comfort 30 miles east of here. That is where Peter L. Himber, a pediatric neurologist, has decided to stop watering the gently sloping hillside that he spent $100,000 to turn into a green California paradise, seeding it with a carpet of rich native grass and installing a sprinkler system fit for a golf course. But that is also where homeowners like John Sears, a retired food-company executive, bristle with defiance at the prospect of mandatory cuts in water use.

“This is a high fire-risk area,” Mr. Sears said. “If we cut back 35 percent and all these homes just let everything go, what’s green will turn brown. Tell me how the fire risk will increase.”

The fierce drought that is gripping the West — and the imminent prospect of rationing and steep water price increases in California — is sharpening the deep economic divide in this state, illustrating parallel worlds in which wealthy communities guzzle water as poorer neighbors conserve by necessity. The daily water consumption rate was 572.4 gallons per person in Cowan Heights from July through September 2014, the hot and dry summer months California used to calculate community-by-community water rationing orders; it was 63.6 gallons per person in Compton during that same period.

Now, California is trying to turn that dynamic on its head, forcing the state’s biggest water users, which include some of the wealthiest communities, to bear the brunt of the statewide 25 percent cut in urban water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown. Cowan Heights is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use, compared with 8 percent for Compton.

Other wealthy communities that must cut 36 percent include Beverly Hills and Hillsborough, a luxury town in Silicon Valley. Along with Compton, other less wealthy communities facing more modest cuts include Inglewood, which has been told to reduce its water consumption by 12 percent over what it was in 2013.

The looming question now, with drought regulations set to be adopted next month, is whether conservation tools being championed by this state — $10,000-a-day fines for water agencies, higher prices for bigger water users or even, in the most extreme cases, a reduction in water supplies — will be effective with wealthy homeowners. Since their lawns are more often than not tended to by gardeners, they may have little idea just how much water they use.

Gail Lord in her garden in Cowan Heights, which is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use.CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times 

As it is, the legality of conservation — the practice of charging higher water rates to people who consume more for big water use — came under question when a court ruled that a tiered-pricing system used by an Orange County city ran afoul of the State Constitution and sent it back to allow the city to try to bring it into compliance.

“The wealthy use more water, electricity and natural gas than anyone else,” said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They have bigger properties. They are less price sensitive. So if you can afford it, you use it.”

“Then it becomes a moral question,” she said. “But lots of wealthy people don’t pay their own bills, so they don’t know what the water costs.”

Brown Lawns vs. Lush Ones

In Compton, where residents often pay their bills in cash or installments, lawns are brown and backyard pools are few or empty. In Cowan Heights, where residents are involved in a rancorous dispute with a water company over rate increases, water is a luxury worth paying for as homeowners shower their lush lawns and top off pools and koi ponds.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

The Times asked Californians for their thoughts on the drought and how it affects them.

John Montgomery, Oak Park : “It doesn’t matter whether you are conservative or liberal, a religious fundamentalist or a raging athiest, rich or poor, we all need drinking water, and we all eat things that need water to grow to be very simple about it.”

Stephen Babatsias, Los Angeles: “Rich neighborhoods with lush gardens, like Hancock Park, are still as rich and lush looking as before, filled with oxygen and opulent foliage. Everything looks and feels the same so far.”

Edie Marshall, Davis: “Call it fatalistic, but why should I try even harder when so many have done little or nothing? I’m not going to cut back on my showers while rich people in southern California have nice lawns”

Kathleen Naples, Avalon: “Catalina Island has a desal plant with old diesel generators which could be updated and co-generation could be used. Edison runs it very poorly. This is a tourist economy, so tourists waste water and residents are fined and suffer shut-offs.”

Cheryl Trout, Palm Desert: “We are in a 5,000 home golf course community, which has recycled it’s waste water since it was built for watering golf courses and community landscaping. It would be nice if that water could also be used for individual yards. More communities need to switch to this model.”

Daniel Sawyer, San Bernardino: “I am pretty conscientious about water, energy, and waste, so I appreciate this official acknowledgement of the problem. I foresee a lot of Californians paying fines and fees because they will recklessly continue to waste water despite Governor Brown’s orders.”

“Just because you can afford to use something doesn’t mean you should,” said Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, as she sat in her second-floor office with windows overlooking the light-rail Blue Line tracks that cut through town. “We’re all in this together. We all have to make sure we consume less.”

Hints of class resentment can be heard on the streets of Compton.

“I have a garden — it’s dying,” said Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, as she left the water department at Compton City Hall, where she had just paid a $253 two-month water bill. “My grass is drying. I try to save water. In Beverly Hills, they have a big garden and run laundry all the time. It doesn’t matter.”

Rod Lopez, a contractor from Compton who tends to homes here and along the wealthy Newport Beach coast, said he was startled at the different attitudes he found toward water consumption in communities just 30 miles apart.

“I work in Newport Beach: I see water running all day long,” he said. “We’ve gotten so tight over here. Everything is irrigated over there. They may get fined for it — they don’t care. They have the money to pay the fines.”

Compton and Cowan Heights, which is 10 miles from Disneyland, could hardly be more different, and it is not only a matter of water. The median household income in Compton is $42,953, and 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 67 percent of the population is Hispanic. In North Tustin, the census-designated community that includes Cowan Heights, the median household income is $122,662, and less than 3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 84 percent of the population is white.

Since the first homes sprang up in Cowan Heights in the 1950s in what had been hilly horse pastures, water and money have made this neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and wealthy retirees bloom. Even as the drought has worsened and water rates have climbed, residents have continued consuming hundreds of gallons a day and paying — albeit with more than a little grousing — water bills that have soared to $400 or $500 a month.

Many people say they are trying to use less: They are capping their sprinkler systems, installing expensive new drip-watering systems or replacing their thirsty lawns with starkly beautiful desert landscapes. But they can also afford to buy their way out of the drought, assuming that fines will be the primary punishment for those who do not conserve, and that the water will keep flowing for those who can pay.

Some Cowan Heights residents say their neighbors have enough money not to pay heed to rising prices, and are content to let their landscapers use as much water as necessary to keep their homes in bloom. Landscapers’ trucks are parked around nearly every twisting road, tending to avocado and lemon trees, plush lawns, and riots of purple hibiscus and scarlet bougainvillea.

“They don’t even think about it,” said Gail Lord, a resident who keeps a blog cataloging the gardens around Cowan Heights.

Salvador Garcia, a gardener, mowed a lawn in Compton, where 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and which is already using less water by financial necessity.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

On Deerhaven Drive, Craig Beam and his wife saw their water-scarce future after a landscaper stomped at the base of their Chinese elm and declared the roots hollow and parched. “Nobody’s going to go broke around here paying their water bills,” Mr. Beam said.

Still, in a sign that even the wealthy have their limits, the drought is exacerbating a dispute between Cowan Heights residents and their for-profit water provider, the Golden State Water Company, offering a glimpse of fights to come as local water agencies impose higher prices to meet California’s new conservation mandates. The neighborhood is bristling with lawn signs reading, “Stop the Water Ripoff!”

Calculating Costs

Residents complain their water bills have soared as Golden State Water imposed a three-tier pricing system that charges more for higher water use, the kind of conservation pricing that state water regulators are championing. The company is now seeking to add a fourth, even higher price tier. “Golden State Water’s rates reflect the true cost to operate and maintain the water system,” said Denise Kruger, a senior vice president of the company.

That has not appeased water users.

Ms. Lord and her husband, Alan Bartky, outside their home in Cowan Heights, where the median household income is $122,662. CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times 

“Water is a necessity of life,” said Mr. Sears, the retired food-company executive, whose bimonthly water bills regularly run $400 or $500 but went as high as $756 last September. “It should not be sold as a commodity.”

Thirty miles away, the economy in Compton is on the upswing as this region comes out of the recession. Still, Compton Boulevard, the axis around which the 127-year-old community was settled, is filled with reminders of the poverty and crime that are still here: Check-cashing stores and bail bondsmen. Many homes have gates over their windows.

Compton has a storied history of gang wars and has produced some of the bigger names in rap music, including Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. The unemployment rate in Compton was 11.8 percent in February, compared with 6.7 percent statewide. (There are no comparable numbers for Cowan Heights, since it is an unincorporated region.)

This city is a neat grid of postage-stamp-size front lawns, many of them brown or choked with weeds. There are few pools or ornamental fountains in this part of the county; the fountains in front of City Hall have been turned off.

After not budging for 25 years, water prices began rising in 2005 and have increased about 93 percent since then. The city, which has 81,963 water consumers, has also set up a two-tiered system to charge heavier users more, though it remains to be seen if that and other tiered systems will be challenged in the wake of the court ruling in Orange County last week. A typical water bill here is $70 a month.

Alysia Thomas with her daughter Raven and son Darian outside their home in Compton, where a typical water bill is $70 a month. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

“To me the issue is keeping down the cost,” said Ms. Thomas, 41, the stay-at-home mother. “Conservation is a cost-saving thing for me.” She leaned over the fence of her home that she shares with her husband and children, looking over her compact patch of lawn that surrounds her home and another small cottage, where her mother lives.

Chad Blais, the deputy director of public works at Compton, said people often paid their water bill in cash or pleaded for an extension. “We do have a large community that is month-to-month on their pay,” he said. “They don’t have a high water usage mainly because they can’t afford it. They’ll call and tell us they’re choosing to pay for food or medicine.”

Under Governor Brown’s 25 percent statewide reduction order, about 400 local water agencies are responsible for cuts ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent. Water companies are limiting how often people can water their yards — twice a week for Golden State customers — and barring them from washing down pavement or using drinking water to wash a car.

If water providers cannot get customers to conserve enough voluntarily, they can resort to financial penalties: Golden State said it would fine offenders in Cowan Heights and other communities it serves $500 a day.

California’s water-control board has zeroed in on Cowan Heights and its 5,399 water customers as some of the most spendthrift water users. The benchmark measurement from last summer put it high on the list of 94 water districts that must cut their water use by 36 percent under the proposed new rules.

Compton residents often pay their water bills in cash or installments at City Hall.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

“It is somewhat of an outlier,” Toby Moore, the chief hydrogeologist for Golden State Water, said of Cowan Heights. “There’s been a lot of investment into those properties, so water use is higher to address the landscaping of those properties.”

Some people in Cowan Heights are planning to let their lawns go brown, though more out of a spirit of conservation than economic necessity.

“We’ll replace that with rocks,” said Dr. Himber, the neurologist, as he and his landscaper walked the grounds.

Ms. Lord, the blogger, walked around her home, tucked amid flower-splashed hillsides behind a stately automated gate, and surveyed her roses with a fatalistic eye. “Doomed,” she said, nodding at the flowers, blooming wedding-white and dance-hall pink. “Doomed.”

‘A Bad Message’

About 80 percent of the water in this state is used by agriculture, so the amount of water that might be saved by cuts in wealthy and relatively sparsely populated areas will not be large.

But the disparity in behavior is a matter of concern among state water regulators, as is the worry that high prices will not have the same kind of impact on water use in, say, Cowan Heights as they might in Compton.

“That is the challenge,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water for about 19 million people. “We are finding it works with 90 percent of the public. You still have certain wealthy communities that won’t bother. And the price penalty doesn’t impact them. It sends a bad message.”

David L. Feldman, who studies water policy at the University of California, Irvine, said a big risk for state water regulators would be if the public concluded that water-conservation policies were “falling disproportionately on those who are less able to meet those goals.”

Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, said she had thought she was doing her part, and she spoke of the lush gardens and sweeping pools she sees in Beverly Hills.

“I’m using a lot less,” Ms. Barrera said. At that, she glanced down at the just-paid water bill she was still holding in her hand. “But I guess it’s not enough.”

Oxfam: Em 2016, 1% mais ricos terão mais dinheiro que o resto do mundo (Carta Capital)

19/1/2015 – 09h33

por Redação da Carta Capital

pobreza Oxfam: Em 2016, 1% mais ricos terão mais dinheiro que o resto do mundo

A redução da pobreza é um dos eixos da agenda de desenvolvimento pós-2015. Crianças na favela de Kallayanpur, uma das favelas urbanas em Daca, Bangladesh. Foto: ONU/Kibae Park 

ONG britânica divulga dados sobre a desigualdade social no mundo para tentar guiar as discussões do Fórum Econômico Mundial

Um estudo divulgado nesta segunda-feira 19 pela ONG britânica Oxfam afirma que, em 2016, as 37 milhões de pessoas que compõem o 1% mais rico da população mundial terão mais dinheiro do que os outros 99% juntos. O relatório tem o objetivo de influenciar as discussões a serem travadas no Fórum Econômico Mundial (FEM), que reúne os ricos e poderosos no resort suíço de Davos entre 21 e 24 de janeiro.

O estudo da Oxfam é baseado no relatório anual sobre a riqueza mundial que o banco Credit Suisse divulga anualmente desde 2010. Na versão mais recente, divulgada em outubro 2014, o Credit Suisse mostrou que o 1% mais rico (com bens de 800 mil dólares no mínimo) detinha 48,2% da riqueza mundial, enquanto os outros 99% ficavam com os 51,8%. No grupo dos 99%, também há uma significativa desigualdade: quase toda a riqueza está nas mãos dos 20% mais ricos, enquanto as outras pessoas dividem 5,5% do patrimônio.

No estudo divulgado nesta segunda, a Oxfam extrapolou os dados para o futuro e indica que em 2016 o 1% mais rico terá mais de 50% dos bens e patrimônios existentes no mundo. “Nós realmente queremos viver em um mundo no qual o 1% tem mais do que nós todos juntos?”, questionou Winnie Byanyima, diretora-executiva da Oxfam e co-presidente do Fórum Econômico Mundial. Em artigo publicado no site do FEM, Byanyima afirma que o fórum tem em 2015 o duplo desafio de conciliar a desigualdade social e as mudanças climáticas. “Tanto nos países ricos quanto nos pobres, essa desigualdade alimenta o conflito, corroendo as democracias e prejudicando o próprio crescimento”, afirma Byanyima.

A diretora da Oxfam lembra que há algum tempo os que se preocupavam com a desigualdade eram acusados de ter “inveja”, mas que apenas em 2014 algumas personalidades como o papa Francisco, o presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, e a diretora do Fundo Monetário Internacional (FMI), Christine Lagarde, manifestaram preocupação com a desigualdade social. “O crescente consenso: se não controlada, a desigualdade econômica vai fazer regredir a luta contra a pobreza e ameaçará a estabilidade global”, afirma.

A Oxfam mostra que a riqueza do 1% é derivada de atividades em poucos setores, sendo os de finanças e seguros os principais e os de serviços médicos e indústria farmacêutica dois com grande crescimento em 2013 e 2014. A Oxfam lembra que as companhias mais ricas do mundo usam seu dinheiro, entre outras coisas, para influenciar os governos por meio de lobbies, favorecendo seus setores. No caso particular dos Estados Unidos, que concentra junto com a Europa a maior parte dos integrantes do 1% mais rico, o lobby é particularmente prolífico, afirma a Oxfam, para mexer no orçamento e nos impostos do país, destinando a poucos recursos que “deveriam ser direcionados em benefícios de toda a população”.

Para a Oxfam, a desigualdade social não deve ser tratada como algo inevitável. A ONG lista uma série de medidas para colocar a diferença entre ricos e pobres sob controle, como fazer os governos trabalharem para seus cidadãos e terem a redução da desigualdade como objetivo; a promoção dos direitos e a igualdade econômica das mulheres; o pagamento de salários mínimos e a contenção dos salários de executivos; e o objetivo de o mundo todo ter serviços gratuitos de saúde e educação.

* Publicado originalmente no site Carta Capital.

Brain circuit differences reflect divisions in social status (Science Daily)

Date: September 2, 2014

Source: University of Oxford

Summary: Life at opposite ends of primate social hierarchies is linked to specific brain networks, research has shown. The more dominant you are, the bigger some brain regions are. If your social position is more subordinate, other brain regions are bigger.

 

Group of young barbary macaques (stock image). The research determined the position of 25 macaque monkeys in their social hierarchy and then analyzed non-invasive scans of their brains that had been collected as part of other ongoing University research programs. The findings show that brain regions in one neural circuit are larger in more dominant animals. The regions composing this circuit are the amygdala, raphe nucleus and hypothalamus. Credit: © scphoto48 / Fotolia

Life at opposite ends of primate social hierarchies is linked to specific brain networks, a new Oxford University study has shown.

The importance of social rank is something we all learn at an early age. In non-human primates, social dominance influences access to food and mates. In humans, social hierarchies influence our performance everywhere from school to the workplace and have a direct influence on our well-being and mental health. Life on the lowest rung can be stressful, but life at the top also requires careful acts of balancing and coalition forming. However, we know very little about the relationship between these social ranks and brain function.

The new research, conducted at the University of Oxford, reveals differences between individual primate’s brains which depend on the their social status. The more dominant you are, the bigger some brain regions are. If your social position is more subordinate, other brain regions are bigger. Additionally, the way the brain regions interact with each other is also associated with social status. The pattern of results suggests that successful behaviour at each end of the social scale makes specialised demands of the brain.

The research, led by Dr MaryAnn Noonan of the Decision and Action Laboratory at the University of Oxford, determined the position of 25 macaque monkeys in their social hierarchy and then analysed non-invasive scans of their brains that had been collected as part of other ongoing University research programs. The findings, publishing September 2 in the open access journal PLOS Biology, show that brain regions in one neural circuit are larger in more dominant animals. The regions composing this circuit are the amygdala, raphe nucleus and hypothalamus. Previous research has shown that the amygdala is involved in learning, and processing social and emotional information. The raphe nucleus and hypothalamus are involved in controlling neurotransmitters and neurohormones, such as serotonin and oxytocin. The MRI scans also revealed that another circuit of brain regions, which collectively can be called the striatum, were found to be larger in more subordinate animals. The striatum is known to play a complex but important role in learning the value of our choices and actions.

The study also reports that the brain’s activity, not just its structure, varies with position in the social hierarchy. The researchers found that the strength with which activity in some of these areas was coupled together was also related to social status. Collectively, these results mean that social status is not only reflected in the brain’s hardware, it is also related to differences in the brain’s software, or communication patterns.

Finally, the size of another set of brain regions correlated not only with social status but also with the size of the animal’s social group. The macaque groups ranged in size between one and seven. The research showed that grey matter in regions involved in social cognition, such as the mid-superior temporal sulcus and rostral prefrontal cortex, correlated with both group size and social status. Previous research has shown that these regions are important for a variety of social behaviours, such as interpreting facial expressions or physical gestures, understanding the intentions of others and predicting their behaviour.

“This finding may reflect the fact that social status in macaques depends not only on the outcome of competitive social interactions but on social bonds formed that promote coalitions,” says Matthew Rushworth, the head of the Decision and Action Laboratory in Oxford. “The correlation with social group size and social status suggests this set of brain regions may coordinate behaviour that bridges these two social variables.”

The results suggest that just as animals assign value to environmental stimuli they may also assign values to themselves — ‘self-values’. Social rank is likely to be an important determinant of such self-values. We already know that some of the brain regions identified in the current study track the value of objects in our environment and so may also play a key role in monitoring longer-term values associated with an individual’s status.

The reasons behind the identified brain differences remain unclear, particularly whether they are present at birth or result from social differences. Dr Noonan said: “One possibility is that the demands of a life in a particular social position use certain brain regions more frequently and as a result those areas expand to step up to the task. Alternatively, it is possible that people born with brains organised in a particular way tend towards certain social positions. In all likelihood, both of these mechanisms will work together to produce behaviour appropriate for the social context.”

Social status also changes over time and in different contexts. Dr Noonan added: “While we might be top-dog in one circle of friends, at work we might be more of a social climber. The fluidity of our social position and how our brains adapt our behavior to succeed in each context is the next exciting direction for this area of research.”

 

Journal Reference:

  1. MaryAnn P. Noonan, Jerome Sallet, Rogier B. Mars, Franz X. Neubert, Jill X. O’Reilly, Jesper L. Andersson, Anna S. Mitchell, Andrew H. Bell, Karla L. Miller, Matthew F. S. Rushworth. A Neural Circuit Covarying with Social Hierarchy in Macaques. PLoS Biology, 2014; 12 (9): e1001940 DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001940

Why We’re in a New Gilded Age (The New York Review of Books)

Paul Krugman

MAY 8, 2014 ISSUE

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95

 

krugman_1-050814

Thomas Piketty in his office at the Paris School of Economics, 2013. Emmanuelle Marchadour

Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.

The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.

It therefore came as a revelation when Piketty and his colleagues showed that incomes of the now famous “one percent,” and of even narrower groups, are actually the big story in rising inequality. And this discovery came with a second revelation: talk of a second Gilded Age, which might have seemed like hyperbole, was nothing of the kind. In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.

Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.

1.

What do we know about economic inequality, and about when do we know it? Until the Piketty revolution swept through the field, most of what we knew about income and wealth inequality came from surveys, in which randomly chosen households are asked to fill in a questionnaire, and their answers are tallied up to produce a statistical portrait of the whole. The international gold standard for such surveys is the annual survey conducted once a year by the Census Bureau. The Federal Reserve also conducts a triennial survey of the distribution of wealth.

These two surveys are an essential guide to the changing shape of American society. Among other things, they have long pointed to a dramatic shift in the process of US economic growth, one that started around 1980. Before then, families at all levels saw their incomes grow more or less in tandem with the growth of the economy as a whole. After 1980, however, the lion’s share of gains went to the top end of the income distribution, with families in the bottom half lagging far behind.

Historically, other countries haven’t been equally good at keeping track of who gets what; but this situation has improved over time, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Luxembourg Income Study (with which I will soon be affiliated). And the growing availability of survey data that can be compared across nations has led to further important insights. In particular, we now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action. European nations in general have highly unequal incomes from market activity, just like the United States, although possibly not to the same extent. But they do far more redistribution through taxes and transfers than America does, leading to much less inequality in disposable incomes.

Yet for all their usefulness, survey data have important limitations. They tend to undercount or miss entirely the income that accrues to the handful of individuals at the very top of the income scale. They also have limited historical depth. Even US survey data only take us to 1947.

Enter Piketty and his colleagues, who have turned to an entirely different source of information: tax records. This isn’t a new idea. Indeed, early analyses of income distribution relied on tax data because they had little else to go on. Piketty et al. have, however, found ways to merge tax data with other sources to produce information that crucially complements survey evidence. In particular, tax data tell us a great deal about the elite. And tax-based estimates can reach much further into the past: the United States has had an income tax since 1913, Britain since 1909. France, thanks to elaborate estate tax collection and record-keeping, has wealth data reaching back to the late eighteenth century.

Exploiting these data isn’t simple. But by using all the tricks of the trade, plus some educated guesswork, Piketty is able to produce a summary of the fall and rise of extreme inequality over the course of the past century. It looks like Table 1 on this page.

As I said, describing our current era as a new Gilded Age or Belle Époque isn’t hyperbole; it’s the simple truth. But how did this happen?

krugman_2-050814

2.

Piketty throws down the intellectual gauntlet right away, with his book’s very title:Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Are economists still allowed to talk like that?

It’s not just the obvious allusion to Marx that makes this title so startling. By invoking capital right from the beginning, Piketty breaks ranks with most modern discussions of inequality, and hearkens back to an older tradition.

The general presumption of most inequality researchers has been that earned income, usually salaries, is where all the action is, and that income from capital is neither important nor interesting. Piketty shows, however, that even today income from capital, not earnings, predominates at the top of the income distribution. He also shows that in the past—during Europe’s Belle Époque and, to a lesser extent, America’s Gilded Age—unequal ownership of assets, not unequal pay, was the prime driver of income disparities. And he argues that we’re on our way back to that kind of society. Nor is this casual speculation on his part. For all that Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a work of principled empiricism, it is very much driven by a theoretical frame that attempts to unify discussion of economic growth and the distribution of both income and wealth. Basically, Piketty sees economic history as the story of a race between capital accumulation and other factors driving growth, mainly population growth and technological progress.

To be sure, this is a race that can have no permanent victor: over the very long run, the stock of capital and total income must grow at roughly the same rate. But one side or the other can pull ahead for decades at a time. On the eve of World War I, Europe had accumulated capital worth six or seven times national income. Over the next four decades, however, a combination of physical destruction and the diversion of savings into war efforts cut that ratio in half. Capital accumulation resumed after World War II, but this was a period of spectacular economic growth—the Trente Glorieuses, or “Glorious Thirty” years; so the ratio of capital to income remained low. Since the 1970s, however, slowing growth has meant a rising capital ratio, so capital and wealth have been trending steadily back toward Belle Époque levels. And this accumulation of capital, says Piketty, will eventually recreate Belle Époque–style inequality unless opposed by progressive taxation.

Why? It’s all about r versus g—the rate of return on capital versus the rate of economic growth.

Just about all economic models tell us that if g falls—which it has since 1970, a decline that is likely to continue due to slower growth in the working-age population and slower technological progress—r will fall too. But Piketty asserts that r will fall less than g. This doesn’t have to be true. However, if it’s sufficiently easy to replace workers with machines—if, to use the technical jargon, the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor is greater than one—slow growth, and the resulting rise in the ratio of capital to income, will indeed widen the gap between r and g. And Piketty argues that this is what the historical record shows will happen.

If he’s right, one immediate consequence will be a redistribution of income away from labor and toward holders of capital. The conventional wisdom has long been that we needn’t worry about that happening, that the shares of capital and labor respectively in total income are highly stable over time. Over the very long run, however, this hasn’t been true. In Britain, for example, capital’s share of income—whether in the form of corporate profits, dividends, rents, or sales of property, for example—fell from around 40 percent before World War I to barely 20 percent circa 1970, and has since bounced roughly halfway back. The historical arc is less clear-cut in the United States, but here, too, there is a redistribution in favor of capital underway. Notably, corporate profits have soared since the financial crisis began, while wages—including the wages of the highly educated—have stagnated.

A rising share of capital, in turn, directly increases inequality, because ownership of capital is always much more unequally distributed than labor income. But the effects don’t stop there, because when the rate of return on capital greatly exceeds the rate of economic growth, “the past tends to devour the future”: society inexorably tends toward dominance by inherited wealth.

Consider how this worked in Belle Époque Europe. At the time, owners of capital could expect to earn 4–5 percent on their investments, with minimal taxation; meanwhile economic growth was only around one percent. So wealthy individuals could easily reinvest enough of their income to ensure that their wealth and hence their incomes were growing faster than the economy, reinforcing their economic dominance, even while skimming enough off to live lives of great luxury.

And what happened when these wealthy individuals died? They passed their wealth on—again, with minimal taxation—to their heirs. Money passed on to the next generation accounted for 20 to 25 percent of annual income; the great bulk of wealth, around 90 percent, was inherited rather than saved out of earned income. And this inherited wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very small minority: in 1910 the richest one percent controlled 60 percent of the wealth in France; in Britain, 70 percent.

No wonder, then, that nineteenth-century novelists were obsessed with inheritance. Piketty discusses at length the lecture that the scoundrel Vautrin gives to Rastignac in Balzac’s Père Goriot, whose gist is that a most successful career could not possibly deliver more than a fraction of the wealth Rastignac could acquire at a stroke by marrying a rich man’s daughter. And it turns out that Vautrin was right: being in the top one percent of nineteenth-century heirs and simply living off your inherited wealth gave you around two and a half times the standard of living you could achieve by clawing your way into the top one percent of paid workers.

You might be tempted to say that modern society is nothing like that. In fact, however, both capital income and inherited wealth, though less important than they were in the Belle Époque, are still powerful drivers of inequality—and their importance is growing. In France, Piketty shows, the inherited share of total wealth dropped sharply during the era of wars and postwar fast growth; circa 1970 it was less than 50 percent. But it’s now back up to 70 percent, and rising. Correspondingly, there has been a fall and then a rise in the importance of inheritance in conferring elite status: the living standard of the top one percent of heirs fell below that of the top one percent of earners between 1910 and 1950, but began rising again after 1970. It’s not all the way back to Rasti-gnac levels, but once again it’s generally more valuable to have the right parents (or to marry into having the right in-laws) than to have the right job.

And this may only be the beginning. Figure 1 on this page shows Piketty’s estimates of global r and g over the long haul, suggesting that the era of equalization now lies behind us, and that the conditions are now ripe for the reestablishment of patrimonial capitalism.

krugman_3-050814

Given this picture, why does inherited wealth play as small a part in today’s public discourse as it does? Piketty suggests that the very size of inherited fortunes in a way makes them invisible: “Wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities.” This is a very good point. But it’s surely not the whole explanation. For the fact is that the most conspicuous example of soaring inequality in today’s world—the rise of the very rich one percent in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially the United States—doesn’t have all that much to do with capital accumulation, at least so far. It has more to do with remarkably high compensation and incomes.

3.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, as I hope I’ve made clear, an awesome work. At a time when the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few has resurfaced as a central political issue, Piketty doesn’t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame.

And yet there is one thing that slightly detracts from the achievement—a sort of intellectual sleight of hand, albeit one that doesn’t actually involve any deception or malfeasance on Piketty’s part. Still, here it is: the main reason there has been a hankering for a book like this is the rise, not just of the one percent, but specifically of the American one percent. Yet that rise, it turns out, has happened for reasons that lie beyond the scope of Piketty’s grand thesis.

Piketty is, of course, too good and too honest an economist to try to gloss over inconvenient facts. “US inequality in 2010,” he declares, “is quantitatively as extreme as in old Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century, but the structure of that inequality is rather clearly different.” Indeed, what we have seen in America and are starting to see elsewhere is something “radically new”—the rise of “supersalaries.”

Capital still matters; at the very highest reaches of society, income from capital still exceeds income from wages, salaries, and bonuses. Piketty estimates that the increased inequality of capital income accounts for about a third of the overall rise in US inequality. But wage income at the top has also surged. Real wages for most US workers have increased little if at all since the early 1970s, but wages for the top one percent of earners have risen 165 percent, and wages for the top 0.1 percent have risen 362 percent. If Rastignac were alive today, Vautrin might concede that he could in fact do as well by becoming a hedge fund manager as he could by marrying wealth.

What explains this dramatic rise in earnings inequality, with the lion’s share of the gains going to people at the very top? Some US economists suggest that it’s driven by changes in technology. In a famous 1981 paper titled “The Economics of Superstars,” the Chicago economist Sherwin Rosen argued that modern communications technology, by extending the reach of talented individuals, was creating winner-take-all markets in which a handful of exceptional individuals reap huge rewards, even if they’re only modestly better at what they do than far less well paid rivals.

Piketty is unconvinced. As he notes, conservative economists love to talk about the high pay of performers of one kind or another, such as movie and sports stars, as a way of suggesting that high incomes really are deserved. But such people actually make up only a tiny fraction of the earnings elite. What one finds instead is mainly executives of one sort or another—people whose performance is, in fact, quite hard to assess or give a monetary value to.

Who determines what a corporate CEO is worth? Well, there’s normally a compensation committee, appointed by the CEO himself. In effect, Piketty argues, high-level executives set their own pay, constrained by social norms rather than any sort of market discipline. And he attributes skyrocketing pay at the top to an erosion of these norms. In effect, he attributes soaring wage incomes at the top to social and political rather than strictly economic forces.

Now, to be fair, he then advances a possible economic analysis of changing norms, arguing that falling tax rates for the rich have in effect emboldened the earnings elite. When a top manager could expect to keep only a small fraction of the income he might get by flouting social norms and extracting a very large salary, he might have decided that the opprobrium wasn’t worth it. Cut his marginal tax rate drastically, and he may behave differently. And as more and more of the supersalaried flout the norms, the norms themselves will change.

There’s a lot to be said for this diagnosis, but it clearly lacks the rigor and universality of Piketty’s analysis of the distribution of and returns to wealth. Also, I don’t thinkCapital in the Twenty-First Century adequately answers the most telling criticism of the executive power hypothesis: the concentration of very high incomes in finance, where performance actually can, after a fashion, be evaluated. I didn’t mention hedge fund managers idly: such people are paid based on their ability to attract clients and achieve investment returns. You can question the social value of modern finance, but the Gordon Gekkos out there are clearly good at something, and their rise can’t be attributed solely to power relations, although I guess you could argue that willingness to engage in morally dubious wheeling and dealing, like willingness to flout pay norms, is encouraged by low marginal tax rates.

Overall, I’m more or less persuaded by Piketty’s explanation of the surge in wage inequality, though his failure to include deregulation is a significant disappointment. But as I said, his analysis here lacks the rigor of his capital analysis, not to mention its sheer, exhilarating intellectual elegance.

Yet we shouldn’t overreact to this. Even if the surge in US inequality to date has been driven mainly by wage income, capital has nonetheless been significant too. And in any case, the story looking forward is likely to be quite different. The current generation of the very rich in America may consist largely of executives rather than rentiers, people who live off accumulated capital, but these executives have heirs. And America two decades from now could be a rentier-dominated society even more unequal than Belle Époque Europe.

But this doesn’t have to happen.

4.

At times, Piketty almost seems to offer a deterministic view of history, in which everything flows from the rates of population growth and technological progress. In reality, however, Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes it clear that public policy can make an enormous difference, that even if the underlying economic conditions point toward extreme inequality, what Piketty calls “a drift toward oligarchy” can be halted and even reversed if the body politic so chooses.

The key point is that when we make the crucial comparison between the rate of return on wealth and the rate of economic growth, what matters is the after-tax return on wealth. So progressive taxation—in particular taxation of wealth and inheritance—can be a powerful force limiting inequality. Indeed, Piketty concludes his masterwork with a plea for just such a form of taxation. Unfortunately, the history covered in his own book does not encourage optimism.

It’s true that during much of the twentieth century strongly progressive taxation did indeed help reduce the concentration of income and wealth, and you might imagine that high taxation at the top is the natural political outcome when democracy confronts high inequality. Piketty, however, rejects this conclusion; the triumph of progressive taxation during the twentieth century, he contends, was “an ephemeral product of chaos.” Absent the wars and upheavals of Europe’s modern Thirty Years’ War, he suggests, nothing of the kind would have happened.

As evidence, he offers the example of France’s Third Republic. The Republic’s official ideology was highly egalitarian. Yet wealth and income were nearly as concentrated, economic privilege almost as dominated by inheritance, as they were in the aristocratic constitutional monarchy across the English Channel. And public policy did almost nothing to oppose the economic domination by rentiers: estate taxes, in particular, were almost laughably low.

Why didn’t the universally enfranchised citizens of France vote in politicians who would take on the rentier class? Well, then as now great wealth purchased great influence—not just over policies, but over public discourse. Upton Sinclair famously declared that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Piketty, looking at his own nation’s history, arrives at a similar observation: “The experience of France in the Belle Époque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.”

The same phenomenon is visible today. In fact, a curious aspect of the American scene is that the politics of inequality seem if anything to be running ahead of the reality. As we’ve seen, at this point the US economic elite owes its status mainly to wages rather than capital income. Nonetheless, conservative economic rhetoric already emphasizes and celebrates capital rather than labor—“job creators,” not workers.

In 2012 Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, chose to mark Labor Day—Labor Day!—with a tweet honoring business owners:

Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.

Perhaps chastened by the reaction, he reportedly felt the need to remind his colleagues at a subsequent GOP retreat that most people don’t own their own businesses—but this in itself shows how thoroughly the party identifies itself with capital to the virtual exclusion of labor.

Nor is this orientation toward capital just rhetorical. Tax burdens on high-income Americans have fallen across the board since the 1970s, but the biggest reductions have come on capital income—including a sharp fall in corporate taxes, which indirectly benefits stockholders—and inheritance. Sometimes it seems as if a substantial part of our political class is actively working to restore Piketty’s patrimonial capitalism. And if you look at the sources of political donations, many of which come from wealthy families, this possibility is a lot less outlandish than it might seem.

Piketty ends Capital in the Twenty-First Century with a call to arms—a call, in particular, for wealth taxes, global if possible, to restrain the growing power of inherited wealth. It’s easy to be cynical about the prospects for anything of the kind. But surely Piketty’s masterly diagnosis of where we are and where we’re heading makes such a thing considerably more likely. So Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.