Square 20170164 Bronze Cesar Chavez

Over 100,000 Americans are dead because they had no health insurance. Shame on us. Cesar Chavez was a great man. he knew he was related to people who were not his family. He never understood why the lowliest among us were so mistreated. He thought that people who helped grow the food should never be hungry. He thought people who build houses should be able to live in them. Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

COmmencement Address

May 30, 2020

My interest in the future could not prepare me for this end of the world.. It was quite a surprise to be contacted by a college I had nearly forgotten I had graduated from all these years later. The only thing that is keeping me from attending is the quarantine.

Really I am surviving this because I took a gamble on biotech twenty years ago. Had I stayed near the college, I would be dead by now. As it is I have spent a fortune to keep one. There are no pictures of me graduating. I was in such a hurry to leave this place that I did not go to the graduation ceremony. I went to the bursar’s office to pick up my diploma and drive out of the city with my car loaded with all my worldly possessions. I never looked back…until now.

All the mom and pop shops that paid my bills were closing up or moving overseas. I saw the writing on the wall and it was in Mandarin.

Advice? Meet someone new everyday. I decided to photograph everyone I met and soon a busboy became a restauranteur and then a governor. Democracy requires people to rise to the top, I have seen it.

The rich have decided if they can’t take it with them, they are not going to go. Covid-19 has shown that everyone is vulnerable to disease,  even me.

Science fiction writer David Brin says the rich are having so much medical  work done that at some point, they will become a different species. I hope that does not happen. It is our commonality that unites what we learn from each other. So there it is. Meet as many people as you can, learn from them and remind them they will die eventually . No I don’t want to see the biolab.  I think I paid for Stanford’s. That turned out to be Tim’s most expensive non handshake. You live and learn or you don’t live long. Barb will find this funny, Pam will hate it. I will laugh all the way. If you meet Barb you will know why you never heard of her.

I have a long walk down the hill from here. They still have not worked out the parking around here.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved

May 17, 2020 Blumbers

 

Written Testimony
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health

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Scientific Integrity in the COVID-19 Response

Statement of

Rick Bright, Ph.D

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 am
May 14, 2020

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Good morning Chairwoman, Eshoo, Ranking Member Burgess and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today.

I am Dr. Rick Bright, a career public servant and a scientist who has spent 25 years of my career focused on addressing pandemic outbreaks. I received my bachelor’s degree with honors in both biology and physical sciences from Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. I earned my PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis from Emory University in Georgia My dissertation was focused on pandemic avian influenza. I have spent my entire career leading teams of scientists in drugs, diagnostics and vaccine development — in the government with CDC and BARDA, for a global non-profit organization and also in the biotechnology industry. Regardless of my position, my job and my entire professional focus has been on saving lives. My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this – to confront and defeat a deadly virus like COVID-19 that threatens Americans and people around the globe.

I joined the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in 2010 and from November of 2016 until April 21 of this year, I had the privilege of serving our country as its Director. During the time I was Director of BARDA we successfully partnered with private industry to achieve an unprecedented number of FDA approvals for medical countermeasures against a wide variety of national health security threats. This was a major and unprecedented accomplishment and one that I and the conscientious employees of BARDA take great pride in.

On April 21, 2020, I was removed from my positions as the Director of BARDA and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response by HHS leadership and involuntarily transferred to a more limited and less impactful position at the National Institutes of Health. I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest funding allocated to BARDA by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. While my intention in testifying today is to be forward looking, I spoke out then and I am testifying today because science – not politics or cronyism – must lead the way to combat this deadly virus.

The world is confronting a great public health emergency which has the potential to eclipse the devastation wrought by the 1918 influenza which globally claimed over 50 million lives. We face a highly-transmissible and deadly virus which not only claims lives but is also disrupting the very foundations of our societies. The American health-care system is being taxed to the limit, our economy is spiraling downward — leading to mass unemployment — and our population is being paralyzed by fear stemming from the lack of a coordinated response and a dearth of accurate, clear communication about the path forward. Americans yearn to get back to work, to open their businesses and provide for their families. I get that. We need a national coordinated strategy to look at all of these pieces and to ensure that they fit well together. To conceive and implement this strategy, our government must draw on the guidance of the best scientific minds.

In my position as BARDA Director, I led portions of a coordinated response; development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. In January of this year, I pushed for our government to obtain virus samples from China and to secure more funding for BARDA to be able to get started quickly on the development of critical medical countermeasures. HHS leadership was dismissive about

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my dire predictions about what I assumed would be a broader outbreak and the pressing need to act, and were therefore unwilling to act with the urgency that the situation required. Understanding that the United States had a critical shortage of necessary supplies and PPE to deal with a pandemic, in January, February and March, 2020, I pushed HHS to ramp up US production of masks, respirators and other critical supplies, such as medicine, syringes and swabs. Again, my urgency was dismissed and I was cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19. When I was nevertheless able to convey these urgent concerns by speaking directly with a senior White House advisor and with members of Congress who better understood the urgency to act, I faced hostility and marginalization from HHS officials. And finally, when I resisted efforts to promote and enable broad access to an unproven drug, chloroquine, to the American people without transparent information on the potential health risks, I was removed from BARDA.

While I am unfortunately no longer leading BARDA, I am an expert in these areas and fully understand the grave risks we are facing. I continue to believe that we must act urgently to effectively combat this deadly disease. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities. While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.

First and foremost, we need to be truthful with the American people. They want the truth. They can handle the truth. Truth, no matter how unpleasant, decreases the fear generated by uncertainty. The truth must be based on scientific evidence – and not filtered for political reasons. We must know and appreciate what we are up against. We have the world’s greatest scientists – they must be permitted to lead. Let them speak truthfully without fear of retribution. We must listen so that the government can then take the most powerful steps to save lives.

Most Americans want the same thing – a return to normal. The normal of 2019 is not going to return, but we all have an opportunity to shape the new normal of 2020 and beyond. With the participation and cooperation of every American, this can be achieved. We have a long history of uniting in response to adversity. Each of us can and must do our part now. However, it is critical to get this right. As my colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci testified on May 12, 2020, we must not rush blindly, or act too quickly, in returning to our daily lives. If we ignore the science, we stand a dramatically increased risk of worsening the spread of the virus in the coming months. This could lead to more widespread outbreaks and to many more lives lost throughout the remainder of this year.

To do our part, we need to hear one message in a voice that is clear, consistent, trustworthy, and backed by the best science available. In previous outbreaks, Americans listened to our public health experts at the CDC. They were the daily face and the voice guiding Americans during prior outbreaks including Ebola, Zika, and the H1N1 influenza pandemic. As an example, in 2009, the CDC, along with Elmo, taught Americans how to sneeze in a way that minimizes risk of contagion. Today, we need clear and simple messages to teach us how wear a face cover, when and how to safely go outside or back to work or back to school. It’s that simple.

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While waiting for a cure (which, I believe, will come), there is much we MUST do. With clear leadership, honest communication, and data-driven solutions. We must:

  • Increase public education regarding the basics — handwashing, social distancing, appropriate face covering, self- and dependent monitoring, and frankly, our leaders must lead by modeling the behavior.

    o These simple measures reduce the number of people exposed and can buy us valuable time.

  • Ramp up production of essential equipment and supplies, including raw materials and critical components.

o Shortages of critical supplies and protective gear increase the risk to our frontline healthcare workers; they deserve the necessary equipment to protect themselves while treating their patients. First responders must also be given protective equipment. And we now see a courageous segment of our workforce – essential workers who keep food on our tables and keep our society running. They too deserve our appreciation and support.

  • Facilitate equitable distribution of essential equipment and supplies – eliminate the state vs. state competition. Establishing a national standard of procurement and distribution increases efficiency and reduces costs.

  • Finally, we need a national testing strategy. The virus is out there, it’s everywhere. We need to be able to find it, to isolate it and to stop it from infecting more people. We need tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them. We need be able to trust the results so that we can trace contacts, isolate and quarantine appropriately while striving to develop a cure.

    As I reflect on the past few months of this outbreak, it is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been. We missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook. There will be plenty of time to identify gaps for improvement. For now, we need to focus on getting things right going forward. We need to ensure that we have a plan to recovery and that everyone knows the plan and everyone participates in the plan. Congress has taken important steps to support the response; and we have more to do. We need your help to get us through the crisis.

    We Americans, working cooperatively with our global friends, can and will succeed in finding a cure for COVID19, but that success depends on what we do today. We must unite and use all available tools and measures we have to stem the damage this virus has wrought.

    We will either be remembered for what we did or for what we failed to do to address this crisis. I call on all of us to act – to ensure the health, safety, and prosperity of all Americans. You can count on me to continue to do my part.

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May 14, 2020 Covidonomics

On May 14, 2020 NPR’s Jim Zarroli reported “36.5 Million Have Filed For Unemployment In 8 Weeks”. Over a million Americans are infected with Covid-19.  Over 80, 000 are dead, with thousands dying everyday. Over 36.5 million people are out of work, with a mind boggling unemployment rate of 14.7 percent compared to a February fifty-year low rate of 3.5%.

“Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell painted a grim picture for the economy. “The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II,” he said. A Fed survey found that nearly 40% of workers in households making less than $40,000 a year had lost a job in March, Powell noted.”

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

May 10, 2020 Blumbers

Believe It

On May 6, 2020 NPR’s Jim Zarroli reported “3.2 Million More Are Out Of Work As Jobless Claims Keep Piling Up”. Over a million Americans are infected with Covid-19.  Over 70, 000 are dead, with thousands dying everyday. Over 33 million people are out of work, with a mind boggling unemployment rate of 14.7 percent. People are not getting the help they need to feed and shelter their families. They cannot get the medical care they need stay alive and no cure in sight. Competent leadership makes a difference. If someone had told you all this bad news on Election Day 2016, you would not have believed it. Will you believe it on Election Day 2020? Vote.

May Flour Baking Bad

Note: A friend sent me 25 pounds of flour in one large bag. I tried to carefully put it into five large plastic bags but flour still got everywhere. The kitchen table looked like something from Scarface or Breaking bad.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

May 3, 2020 Blumbers

Covid-19 News

On May 1, 2020 NPR’s Jeremy Hobson reported two disturbing bits of news. The CDC said over 50,000 citizens have died from Covid-19. The US Dept. of Labor said over 30 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits. We have to stop tying health insurance to employment. Nurses should not have to waste time asking about health insurance coverage while trying get your truly vital signs. National health screening would be a great network to communicate when a new disease appears.

Turkey Traffic

There is not a lot of traffic these days and wildlife is returning everywhere. Last week I got stuck in a traffic jam. I tried to see down the road and saw six turkeys wandering slowly through the cars like sheep on a country road. I had this happen with Canadian geese too. 

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline all rights reserved.

Apr. 26, 2020 Blumbers

Citizenship

Before the coronavirus quarantine, I carried out my responsibilities as a citizen. I appeared for jury duty,  filed my taxes and even filled out my census forms. The most important thing I did was vote. It is the most important thing you can do as a citizen. It should be federal holiday that you get the day off. You should be able to vote by mail. It should easy. With all that is going on, please vote. Elections do make a difference. 

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Apr. 21, 2020 Oil Less Than Zero

On April 20, 2020 NPR’s Camila Domonoske NPR reported “Free Fall: Oil Prices Go Negative” “For the first time ever, a key U.S. oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), went below zero on Monday as traders approach a deadline to find buyers.  That means some traders, instead of paying money to buy oil, are paying to get rid of it.  The unprecedented shift comes as global oil markets continue to grapple with a pandemic-driven collapse in demand.  At the start of 2020, a barrel of WTI cost around $60. Prices had dropped swiftly because of the coronavirus, landing at around $18 a barrel on Friday.  Then on Monday they plummeted through the floor. And kept going. WTI for May delivery settled at a negative $37.63 — meaning traders are paying $37.63 to get someone to accept a delivery of a barrel of oil.  The plunging price of WTI is driven by a trading contract deadline; oil traders have until Tuesday to sell off the current futures contract. And they need buyers that are capable of receiving and storing that much oil. Clearly, those buyers are in short supply.  Other types of crude, without a deadline coming up that quickly, have not dropped nearly so sharply.  But in general, crude oil prices are very low and continue to fall. Brent, an international benchmark, is in the mid-$20s and fell more than 9% on Monday.  Oil-producing countries and companies are trying to reduce their output, but they can’t keep pace with the extremely rapid drop in global demand, as the world economy hits the brakes.  That’s creating a massive oversupply of oil and raising concerns about where buyers will be able to physically store it all.”

This story gives you an idea of how weird this timeline is. If you had said this to someone back at the beginning of 2020 they wouldn’t have believed you. Air pollution is falling too. May be we do not need these wealthy oil guys. Maybe this a golden opportunity to switch to electric vehicles. Maybe people will figure out they do  not need a car at all if everything is delivered to your house.

Sadly people are still dying of coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Apr. 19, 2020 Blumbers

Wall of Soldiers

The coronavirus has infected the crew of the US Navy aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in Guam. The US Army is closing boot camps across the country. These are two clear examples of how not having universal health care can affect our nation’s defense. It protects those who protect us. In ancient Greece, a visitor to Sparta asked a local why Sparta had no walls. He said that Sparta was guarded by a wall of soldiers. A country is only as strong as the people who defend it. If we can fight disease, we can fight anything.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Apr. 12, 2020 Blumbers

Yippy-Ay-Yo

Funny how much has the coronavirus changed things. Yesterday I walked into a bank wearing a broad-rimmed hat and bandana for a mask. I looked like Tom Mix robbing a stagecoach. Two months ago the tellers would have hit the alarm. Of course, if you want to rob a bank, own one.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Apr. 5, 2020 Blumbers

State Of Emergency

Many governments have declared a state of emergency in light of the coronavirus pandemic. They are doing things they should have been already doing. Instead, people had to keep working so they kept spreading the virus. Conservatives complain about how much government programs cost, but not having Medicare For All, universal sick leave, affordable housing, and free education led to an economic crash making even wealthy corporations vulnerable.   Billions of dollars of prevention is still cheaper than trillions of dollars of cure.

If we can have these essential services during an emergency, why not have them to prevent the next emergency?

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Mar. 29, 2020 Blumbers

Panicdemic

I am seeing some odd behavior with coronavirus outbreak. I was walking down a street and a woman wearing a red baseball hat approached me and asked if I wanted to buy the car or RV in front of her house. The house was on sale too. She wanted cash. 

On another street at 9:00 PM, someone was mowing their lawn in the rain wearing a headlamp like a coal miner. There was a for sale sign on the lawn and an open house the next morning. Once again not interested.

Stores are blocking entrances and exits with lines of shopping carts or stacks of empty wooden palettes. This could be dangerous in an emergency. If there is a fire or earthquake, people will need to get out quickly. Blocking makes it more difficult for disabled and the elderly to get out. Yellow tape and orange traffic cones are safer. If you think you need  barriers you might want to close the store altogether.

One store insisted I use a shopping cart. Rather than touching one I went elsewhere.

A homeless man riding a bicycle down a street had a Bluetooth speaker blaring Kenny G light jazz. It was rather calming to hear elevator music during a pandemic.

One store had a man in front with an accordion playing the tango from the film Twelve Monkeys. Super eerie.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Mar. 22, 2020 Blumbers

My Corona

The end of the world always happens at the worst possible time. I meet and photograph thousands of people every year. Astoundingly,  I do not have symptoms yet. I carry a couple of cameras and I am usually more than six feet away. There is no time to  shake hands. Last week, every event I was supposed to cover was cancelled. It was time to take a break.

The first sign that things had changed was no toilet paper at the grocery store. People should know the coronavirus affects the lungs and  not the digestive system.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved. 

Mar. 20, 2020 U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (r-NC) Insider

On March 20, 2020 NPR’s Tim Mak reported “Intelligence Chairman Raised Virus Alarms Weeks Ago, Secret Recording Shows” The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned a small group of well-connected constituents three weeks ago to prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.  The remarks from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr were more stark than any he had delivered in more public forums.  On Feb. 27, 2020 when the United States had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was tamping down fears and suggesting the virus could be seasonal.  

“It’s going to disappear. One day, It’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” the president said then, before adding, “it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”  

On that same day, Burr attended a luncheon held at a social club called the Capitol Hill Club. And he delivered a much more alarming message.  “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”  
 
The luncheon had been organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group whose membership consists of businesses and organizations in North Carolina, the state Burr represents. Membership to join the Tar Heel Circle costs between $500 and $10,000, and promises that members “enjoy interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector,” according to the group’s website.  In attendance, according to a copy of the RSVP list obtained by NPR, were dozens of invited guests representing companies and organizations from North Carolina. And according to federal records, those companies or their political committees donated more than $100,000 to Burr’s election campaign in 2015 and 2016. (Burr announced previously he was not planning to run for reelection in 2022).  
 
The message Burr delivered to the group was dire.  Thirteen days before the State Department began to warn against travel to Europe, and fifteen days before the Trump administration banned European travelers, Burr warned those in the room to reconsider.  
 
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference. Why risk it?” Burr said.  Sixteen days before North Carolina closed its schools due to the threat of Coronavirus, Burr warned it could happen.  
 
“There will be, I’m sure, times that communities, probably some in North Carolina, have a transmission rate where they say, let’s close schools for two weeks, everybody stay home,” he said.
 
And Burr invoked the possibility that the military may be mobilized to combat the Coronavirus. Only now, three weeks later, is the public learning of that prospect.  
 
“We’re going to send a military hospital there, it’s going to be in tents and going to be set up on the ground somewhere,” Burr said at the luncheon. “It’s going to be a decision the president and DoD make. And we’re going to have medical professionals supplemented by local staff to treat the people that need treatment.”  
 
Burr has a unique perspective on the government’s response to a pandemic, and not just because of his role as Intelligence Committee chairman. He helped to write the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which forms the framework for the federal response.  
 
But in his public comments about the threat of COVID-19, Burr never offered the kind of precise warning that he delivered to the small group of his constituents.  
 
On Feb. 7, 2020 Burr coauthored an op-ed that laid out the tools that the U.S. government had at its disposal to fight Coronavirus.  
 
“Luckily, we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus,” Burr said in a statement on March 5.  He pressed a CDC official in early March as to why the nation’s pandemic surveillance capabilities had fallen short despite the millions in funding he had helped secure for that purpose through PAHPA.  But despite his longtime interest in bio-hazard threats, his expertise on the subject, and his role as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr did not warn the public of the government actions he thought might become necessary, like he did at the luncheon on Feb. 27.  
 
Burr’s office did not directly respond to a list of questions sent by NPR.  
 
His spokesperson Caitlin Carroll provided a statement that stressed Burr’s decades-long interest in public health preparedness.  
 
“Since early February, whether in constituent meetings or open hearings, he has worked to educate the public about the tools and resources our government has to confront the spread of coronavirus,” Carroll wrote. “At the same time, he has urged public officials to fully utilize every tool at their disposal in this effort. Every American should take this threat seriously and should follow the latest guidelines from the CDC and state officials.”  
 
One public health expert told NPR that early warnings about a coming health crisis and its effects could have made a difference just a few weeks ago.  
 
“In the interest of public health, we actually need to involve the public. It’s right there in the name. And being transparent, being as clear as possible is very important,” said Jason Silverstein, who lectures at the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  
 
“The type of language that could have come out there at the end of February saying here’s what we ought to expect could have, you know, not panicked people, but gotten them all together to have to all prepare,” Silverstein added.
 
Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Mar. 19, 2020 Li Wenliang

On March 19, 2020 NPR’s Amy Cheng reported “Chinese Authorities Admit Improper Response To Coronavirus Whistleblower” Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist whose early warnings of the coronavirus earned him a reprimand from Chinese authorities, is finally receiving justice — albeit posthumously. Authorities in the country are apologizing to his family and dropping their reprimand, six weeks after his death from the disease caused by the virus.  Widely known as a whistleblower who spoke up about the outbreak in the city of Wuhan, China, the 34-year-old doctor was initially punished by local authorities. They said he was “spreading rumors” in early January, after he had tried to warn others about the emergence of the novel coronavirus that has now become a global pandemic.  By the time the young doctor died of COVID-19 in early February, the virus had already claimed hundreds of lives. To date, more than 3,000 people have died of the virus in mainland China.  News of his death, coupled with accusations that the government was covering up the outbreak, triggered an avalanche of outrage from a wide cross-section of Chinese society. In response to popular demand, the central government dispatched investigators two days later to look into the circumstances surrounding his police reprimand and death.  

Beijing’s investigators now conclude that Wuhan authorities acted “inadequately” when they reprimanded the late doctor and failed to follow “proper law enforcement procedure.” They did not, however, explain what the correct response should be.  Investigators also characterized his efforts to sound the alarm on the coronavirus as a positive influence that aided in raising awareness.  Shortly after the official findings were published, Wuhan police announced that the two officers responsible for improperly reprimanding Li have been disciplined.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved. 

Mar. 18, 2020 Food Supply THreatened

March 18, 2020 NPR’s Dan Charles reported “COVID-19 Threatens Food Supply Chain As Farms Worry About Workers Falling Ill”. As Americans scattered to the privacy of their homes this week to avoid spreading the coronavirus, the opposite scene was playing out in the Mexican city of Monterrey.  A thousand or more young men arrived in the city, as they do most weeks of the year, filling up the cheap hotels, standing in long lines at the U.S. Consulate to pick up special H-2A visas for temporary agricultural workers, then gathering in a big park to board buses bound for farms in the United States.  

“I spoke with people going to North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi,” says Justin Flores, vice president of the AFL-CIO’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, who was in Monterrey for meetings. “[They were] headed to destinations all over the country to provide really important labor that supports the backbone of our economy, which is the agricultural industry.”  About 250,000 workers came to the U.S. on H-2A visas last year, the majority of them from Mexico. They’ve become an increasingly important piece of America’s food industry.  

Late in the day on Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City announced that it is suspending nonemergency visa appointments because of concerns for the health of its employees and visitors.  At the same time, though, the embassy notified farm employers that many — perhaps most — of these farm workers still can get their visas, because they participated in the program last year and don’t require an in-person appointment at the consulate.  

Ryan Ogburn, visa director at wafla, which helps farms manage the flow of H-2A workers in the Pacific Northwest, says that 85-90% of their workers will qualify for this exemption. Meanwhile, influential farm organizations in the U.S. are pushing the Trump administration to ease the entry of more guest workers.  The continuing availability of agricultural workers illustrates the paradox of America’s food supply in the age of COVID-19.  

One end of the food supply chain has been completely upended as restaurants go dark and consumers prowl half-empty aisles of supermarkets. Food producers, though, are operating almost as normal — at least for now.  Slaughterhouses, dairies and vegetable producers say that they are open for business, ready to feed the nation. Howard Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council, wrote in a statement that “telecommuting is not an option for us; we are reporting for work as always.”  

Food distributors and wholesalers in the middle of that supply chain, meanwhile, are trying to perform logistical miracles, redirecting truckloads of food from shuttered businesses toward places where people now crave it — mainly grocery stores.  “There’s nothing ‘as usual’ anymore,” says Mark Levin, CEO of M. Levin and Co., a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Philadelphia. Levin normally sells lots of bananas to schools and restaurants, and “unfortunately, all those people, last minute, say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t use this fruit. You must take it back, or don’t deliver it.’ And that’s tough, because we’ve already got it in the system ripening and ready to sell,” Levin says.  Can he send those bananas instead to grocery stores that are out of stock? “Yes, but at a reduced price,” Levin says.  The problem, Levin says, is that different customers want slightly different things. Schools and other institutions buy boxes of loose “petite” bananas, with 150 bananas in a box. “Grocery stores don’t want those,” he says.  

At least people are still eating. Drinking is a different story.  “We’re losing a lot of occasions, regular things like birthday parties or weddings, where people normally get together,” says Stephen Rannekleiv, who follows the beverage sector for RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness.  

“For the beverage world, those are occasions for consumption. We’re losing some of those,” Rannekleiv says. He notes that in China, overall demand for alcoholic beverages has fallen by about 10% during the coronavirus crisis.  There’s an even bigger worry hanging over the food industry: The prospect of workers testing positive for COVID-19.  When it happens, the response likely will go beyond sending that individual home — although that alone can be catastrophic to field workers who are paid, in part, based on their production. 

This week, the United Farm Workers union called on employers to expand paid sick leave for workers.  Vegetable growers are considering policies that would require quarantine for everyone who worked in close proximity to the infected person. That could easily include two dozen or more people. Workers on H-2A visas often live together, sharing kitchens and bedrooms and traveling together on buses. The virus could spread quickly, and measures to stop it will be extremely costly.  According to Steve Alameda, a vegetable grower in Yuma, Ariz., losing an entire 30-person work crew overnight will be extremely disruptive. Farmworkers already are hard to find, and replacing so many people immediately could prove impossible.  

“We’ve got enough disruption,” Alameda says. “We don’t need to disrupt our food supply, that would be really catastrophic.”

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

mar. 17, 2020 Deaths Of DEspair

On March 17, 2020 NPR’s Jim Zarroli  reported “‘Deaths Of Despair’ Examines The Steady Erosion Of U.S. Working-Class Life” The 20th century was an era of rapid and unprecedented improvement in public health all over the world.  

In the United States alone, a person born in 1900 could expect to live to 49; by 2000, that person’s great grandchildren were likely to see their 77th birthdays. Reaching old age is no longer an anomaly, and that is true for people of every race, ethnicity and social class.  

Around 2000, however, came a stark and dramatic reversal of that trend, one documented in the disturbing book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, by the husband-and-wife team of Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics. For white Americans between 45 and 54, average life expectancy was no longer increasing; in fact, it was actually declining — in a pattern seen almost nowhere else on Earth. If increases in life expectancy had continued at the same rate, some 600,000 more Americans would now be alive, Case and Deaton write.

This reversal has come almost entirely among white Americans without a four-year college degree, who make up 38 percent of the U.S. working-age population. “Something is making life worse, especially for less educated whites,” Case and Deaton write.  

Much of the decline stems from higher rates of suicide, opioid overdoses and alcohol-related illnesses — the “deaths of despair” that Case and Deaton refer to. Americans “are drinking themselves to death, or poisoning themselves with drugs, or shooting or hanging themselves.”

They’re also no longer making progress against heart disease, due to higher rates of obesity and tobacco use. While U.S. smoking rates have declined precipitously over the years, they remain stubbornly high in states such as Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee. Smoking rates are actually rising among middle-aged white women who lack a Bachelor’s degree.  The America that Case and Deaton write about is an intensely class-bound place, where the less-educated experience higher rates of severe mental disease, have more trouble with the “instrumental activities of daily life,” such as walking, and report more pain. Chronic pain is now more common among the middle-aged than the elderly, they write.  

By contrast, Americans with a Bachelor’s degree live longer, enjoy more stable families, report happier lives and abuse opioids and alcohol less often. They even vote more. Once, suicide was more common among the educated; today, the reverse is true.  

Case and Deaton don’t shy away from the likely cause of this public-health scandal: The collapse of the steady, decently paid manufacturing jobs that once gave meaning and purpose to working-class life. 

They write:  “Destroy work and, in the end, working-class life cannot survive. It is the loss of meaning, of dignity, of pride, and of self-respect that comes with the loss of marriage and of community that brings on despair, not just or even primarily the loss of money.” 

Men without good jobs make lousy husbands and poor fathers. “They may have children from a series of relationships, some or none of whom they know and some of whom are living with other men. Such fractured and fragile relationships bring little daily joy or comfort and do little to assure middle-aged men that they are living a good life,” Case and Deaton write.  

In such a world, marriages break up, and social bonds fray. 

The institutions that once provided ballast to working-class life — unions and mainstream churches — have proven largely ineffectual against the tectonic forces now reshaping the global economy.  

Case and Deaton do a great job making the case that something has gone grievously wrong. The solutions they propose, such as repairing the U.S. safety net and overhauling the broken U.S. health-care system, are worthy ones, but somehow don’t feel up to addressing the gargantuan social problems they spell out so well.  

Something more will be needed to address the steady erosion of working-class life, with all the heartbreak and despair it’s engendered.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

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