The Deserted Cities – XIV

Image: Cyrus Saurius
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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Comments on recent events in international politics

There are already 68 million cases worldwide, almost 700.000 new cases of coronavirus every day; more than 1,5 million dead and nearly 13.000 in one day last week. Although the pandemic has restarted in Europe, with Italy and Germany with more than 23.000 cases a day, or in Russia, or even Turkey, it is again in the United States that it has reached the highest numbers, with more than 235.000 cases and almost 3.000 deaths. one day. The advance of the coronavirus in the United States continues without control and it is difficult to find anyone who expects a reduction in its pace in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it read, last Thursday, in the BBC World.

It is clear, at this point, that Trump's legacy will be far more than the 300.000 dead from the pandemic when he leaves power on January 20th. Ten months ago, last March, when everything was starting, Trump spoke of one hundred thousand deaths as a hypothesis and example that things were going to be done very well. But the number of infections continues to grow as the Christmas holidays approach. The next three months - December, January and February - "will be the most difficult period in the history of public health in this country," said Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Latin America, Brazil last week reached 50 daily cases and more than 650 deaths in one day. In Asia, India has reported nearly 40 daily cases. With the United States, the three exceed 31 million cases and 600 deaths. Russia reached nearly 29.000 cases last Saturday, a new record. France, with nearly 13.000, reversed a downward trend it had been recording since last month. With variations, the pandemic persists as pressure grows to start testing new vaccines. Russia was delivering Sputinik V to clinics in Moscow. It is the first attempt at large-scale immunization against the virus in a city.

The Prime Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced the start of a mass vaccination from Tuesday, December 8th. The rapid approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Britain, however, has drawn criticism from experts. The European Medicines Agency warned that more studies were needed on its effectiveness than had been carried out so far. In the United States, expectations are high for Moderna Inc., which has shown results similar to those of Pfizer, according to American authorities. Cuba is also accelerating research on its vaccines, Soberana I and Soberana II. “We are closer to the desired vaccine,” said Vicente Vérez, director of the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, last weekend. With five Soberana I formulas applied to more than 100 people, Vérez hopes that before the end of the year it will be possible to define which of the five offers a more effective immune response.

A different world

But the pressure is mounting and governments are looking for a response, ever more urgent as the Christmas and New Year holidays approach. In Spain, the curfew on Christmas Eve and New Year's Day will be lifted until 1:30 am. Some relief for a tired society and struggling commerce. The images from those days are impressive. Thousands of cars lining up to leave Madrid or Barcelona on the eve of “Puente de la Purissima".

The pandemic will leave behind a world very different from the one we had a year ago, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau wrote last week. Thousands of people have died, entire industries have been brought to the edge of the abyss, the welfare state is threatened. The scenario is known. But less is known about the exits. In the coming years, says Colau, “the biggest challenge for public leaders will be to chart a path to recovery, amidst the human, social and economic devastation that Covid 19 has left in our societies”.

But – he warns – instead of insisting on the “fragile world of the pre-pandemic era, we must seize the opportunity to build a more just, balanced and sustainable world”. For Colau, cities could be a privileged setting for the era of reconstruction. He gives the example of his Barcelona: changing the energy matrix, expanding public parks and car-free areas. Nothing similar had been attempted since the Industrial Revolution filled the atmosphere with carbon and the seas with plastics, a European “Green Deal”, as proposed by the president of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen. O "Green Deal” that some in Europe dream of. Countries with reduced carbon footprints, cleaner air and better quality water, more health and better living conditions.

All bets are off

For tens of millions of Europeans, the economic pain continues, says Adam Tooze, a professor of history at Columbia University. It seems, in any case, that the foundations for recovery are being laid. Europe approved a huge package of 8,5 billion euros to fight unemployment, which was received with enthusiasm by the European market, which resulted in negative interest rates: for every 102 euros of loan, there would, in the end, be only 100 euros to pay. We could be reaching a tipping point. But… what if it doesn't happen?, asks Tooze; what if this is just an interregnum between one crisis and another? In 2020, the European economy has been in need of life support. Thousands of jobs have been maintained by a state-funded short-term work scheme; Credit guarantees have been provided for staggering sums, Tooze said.

In 2020, loans to small and medium-sized companies were supported by public guarantees and moratoriums on their maturity. The domestic economy has been sustained by these short-term jobs, “the big news of the welfare state in this crisis,” he says. This naturally has an impact on the deficit and debt, which would increase by around 15% of GDP in the eurozone. What would happen if support for such measures ended earlier than necessary? Without credit, Tooze said, the eurozone would stop working. Unemployment would rise, the economy would continue to contract, debts would become unpayable, and the financial system would collapse. This year, the European Central Bank (ECB) has maintained this support. An economic recovery package would provide €150 billion a year between 2021 and 2026. In any case, what keeps investors interested is the promise of support from the ECB. The entire building hinges on the bank's decision to support each country's sovereign debt market. Because, as we know, although the euro is everyone's currency, a German government bond does not have the same guarantees as one from Greece, Italy or Portugal. If the promise is called into question, despite the prudence and sophistication of this policy, says Tooze, "all bets are off".

huge tweaks

the conservative magazine The Economist, has other fears: that Europe's response to the pandemic ends up ossifying its economy rather than adjusting it. In five of its main countries, 5% of the workforce (in England the number is double) remains in work thanks to short-term jobs, subsidized by the government, while they wait for the return of the jobs as before, or for more hours of work. work that, however, may never return. In an article published on October 8, The Economist, argued about the reason. She compared the European policy to combat unemployment with that of the United States.

In April, it said, “more than 26 million people in England, France, Germany and Spain were working on public subsidies, equivalent to one-fifth of the workforce. Under these conditions, unemployment remained relatively stable, especially in England and Germany. But five months later, eleven million people were still working under the subsidy scheme for short-term jobs, while in the United States, where the policy is to provide subsidies to prevent unemployment, this type rose from 3% in February, before the start of of the pandemic, to 14,7% last April. For The Economist,, the European scheme has negative consequences: the longer it lasts, the less incentive workers will have to look for work and the less likely they are to return to normal.

The United States has taken the right path, says the magazine. It created a generous safety net for the unemployed, and allowed – wisely, they say – the labor market to adjust, showing less inclination than Europe to bail out companies at risk of disappearing as the economy readjusted. . Partly thanks to this, according to the magazine, many new jobs are being created in the United States. But also in this regard, the prospects are not entirely optimistic. The pandemic says The Economist,, “accentuated economic disparities”. This caused consumer spending to plummet and businesses to close, while 500.000 full-time jobs disappeared overnight. The reorientation of the economy will require, in the United States, a political agreement to redesign a social safety net and control the deficit. But there is no deal.

Last Wednesday, the 2nd, the proposal of a bipartisan group was announced, in which Republicans and Democrats agreed on an economic stimulus plan of 908 billion dollars, distributed mainly in aid to unemployment (300 dollars a week) and 288 billion dollars in support of small businesses. The agreement must be approved by Congress, which even the leader of the majority in the Senate, the Republican Mitch McConnell, does not see with sympathy; nor did the Democratic leaders in Congress, who were hoping for a much more generous $2,4 trillion program. The $2,2 trillion stimulus programs passed last March are about to expire. But the crisis continues. The Federal Reserve predicts an economic contraction of 3,7% this year, with an unemployment rate of 7,6%. President-elect Joe Biden has championed a "robust" package of fiscal support for businesses and the unemployed, while Philadelphia Federal Reserve Chairman Patrick Harker has warned that the economy is already showing signs of stalling. For Treasury chief candidate Janet Yellen, "inaction could cause even more devastation."

The world moves on

The Economist, sees a more unequal world as a result of the pandemic, with economies that are less globalized, more digitized and more unequal. The imbalances “will be immense”. According to the picture that is outlined, low-income workers will have to look for work in the suburbs. With low interest rates, stock prices will remain high. The conclusion is that Wall Street will move further away from Main Street, or, in other words, the business people of the people on the street. The US economy, according to the OECD, will end this year at the same size as last year. But the Chinese one will be 10% bigger. Europe will be left behind. Latin America too.

There is little more than a month left for the change of government in Washington. Before that, on January 5, the election of two senators in the state of Georgia will determine who gets the senate, which, in the November elections, was made up of 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. But two are missing, both from Georgia. Polls give Democratic candidates a slim lead. But all within the margin of error. The Democrats would have to win both seats to break even. They would then have the advantage, since the person who defines and ties a vote in the Senate is the Vice President of the Republic. In this case, Vice President Kamala Harris. Something that would make the Biden administration a lot more fluid.

Trump also knows what's at stake, and he campaigned in Georgia last week. But his campaign is still about fraud allegations. Fraud that everyone knows did not exist. He too. But he insists on it because that's how he can keep his ranks mobilized, looking to 2024. But this campaign has risks. Gabriel Sterling, a senior official in the office of Georgia's secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, delivered strong words against Trump and conservative senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler at a press conference. Someone will get hurt if this campaign continues, he warned. “Someone is going to be shot, someone is going to be murdered.” Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser recently pardoned by Trump under the threat of legal sanctions for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian authorities, retweeted a full-page ad published in the conservative The Washington Times by a conservative group in Ohio, We the People Convention. They called for immediate executive action to avert an imminent civil war: martial law, suspension of the constitution and rerun of elections under military supervision.

Flynn dreams of a coup in the United States. In Spain, a reserve general, Francisco Beca, sends a message from his cell phone. He announces that he has read a book, Myths of the Civil War, by former communist Pío Moa, who has written extensively on the subject. If what he says is true, says Beca, "there's no choice but to start shooting 26 million sons of bitches." His colleague, retired captain José Molina, sends another message: “I woke up this morning completely convinced. I don't want these rascals to lose the election. No. I want them all dead and all their bloodline. This is what I want. Is it too much to ask?” Beca replies: “But, my dear, 26 million bullets are needed for that!

France is facing new major protests. Its very conservative interior minister, Gérard Darmanin, believes that society's cancer is a lack of respect for authority. And Congress is trying to pass a law that punishes the press if it publishes photos of police officers in repression. Thousands take to the streets. France is besieged and battered, he writes, in the The Atlantic Mira Kamdar, a resident of the Parisian suburbs. Mass unemployment, frustration with the Covid-19 closure and fears of further terrorist attacks exacerbated the unrest and division. But Professor EJ Dionne Jr. of Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy is optimistic. Trump's defeat in the last election "brought relief and a sense of hope to the whole world". Particularly in Europe, he says. He dreams of rebuilding what he calls the center-left, which would be neither a return to the "third way" of Blair, Schröder or Clinton, nor Obama's "halfway" policy, but an increase in negotiating power. of the workers.

Assange

As soon as next year begins, on January 4, 2021, we will have the news about the extradition of Julian Assange, the journalist in charge of explosive allegations about US military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. “British courts will soon decide the fate of journalist Julian Assange, a man who has been wrongly accused as a criminal. Assange did not commit any crime. He is a champion of the cause of freedom”, published the former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, last September, in the British newspaper The Guardian. “We all know that the American government wants revenge against Assange,” he said. With his fate in the hands of the British courts, it would be a surprise if this government did not succeed. A tragic surprise. In an England that will dawn on January 1 outside the European Union, while last-minute negotiations to avoid a no-deal Brexit continue in an atmosphere of little optimism.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

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