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News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@alice_grigoriadi
News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@theseptemberchronicles
News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@kseni.philippova

If on a winter’s night a traveller is about to board a train, a fortifying drink is of the essence. Thus it was that I stood in line at Burger King, on the concourse at Central Station, in Glasgow, and asked for a hot tea. The only reason that I wasn’t seeking out a dram of whiskey was that I had already done so, dropping into a pub on my way to the station. In short, I was well drammed up—as was the Glaswegian beside me, who leaned on the counter and inquired what I was up to. Taking the Caledonian Sleeper to London, I replied. He fixed me with a canny eye and said, “Are you not afraid o’ the wee virus?”

The answer, foolishly, was no. I was too excited by the thought o’ catching the wee train to be worried about catching anything else. It was late evening, on February 28th; the year would soon leap into the twenty-ninth, and that touch of temporal rarity added to the occasion. The departure of a night train—by definition, a humdrum event for the station staff—exudes, for all but the most jaded travellers, the thrill of an unfamiliar ritual. By day, if late, you run for a train; if early, you tut and sigh at having to tarry so long. At night, on the other hand, you saunter, and deliberately show up in good time. Why? Not because of security, passport control, or the other chores that affront the airline passenger, shortening tempers and sapping every soul, but because you want to settle in and enjoy the show. Patiently, the train awaits you, with a theatrical air of suspense, and the moment of its leaving is akin to the curtain’s rise. T. S. Eliot, for one, knew the moment well:

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Is the world at war with the coronavirus? Last month, Xi Jinping called the Chinese suppression effort a “people’s war”; in the past week, Donald Trump labeled himself a “wartime president,” while Emmanuel Macron declared that France is “at war” with COVID-19. As the global response to the pandemic gathers steam, the rhetoric of wartime mobilization is everywhere. In Italy, the worst-affected country in Europe, the government’s anti-virus czar has called for the country to “equip itself with a war economy” to confront the disease.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, policymakers became fond of using warlike language to describe their stabilization efforts, invoking “big bazookas” and “shock and awe.” But the total nature of the global response to the coronavirus makes the metaphor of wartime economics even more relevant today. Governments currently have to manage a public health emergency at the same time as central banks act to calm financial markets, armed forces are deployed to build hospitals, and citizens’ movements are restricted by social distancing.

But in what ways is the war economy a useful way to understand the fight against the coronavirus? The idea has been invoked to mean a variety of things: productivity, sacrifice, reform, solidarity, and resourcefulness. In some of these areas, war isn’t an appropriate way to think about the global pandemic. In other respects, however, it’s time for Western governments to go beyond merely using wartime rhetoric. The history of 20th-century war economies offers important lessons that policymakers should already be drawing on today.

Our campaign against the disease most clearly recalls wartime emergencies in the urgent need to expand production and care. As COVID-19 cases overwhelm intensive care units around the world, we need more test kits, hospital beds, ventilator machines, masks, and protective clothing—lots of them, fast. Expanded emergency care capacity is encountering supply bottlenecks, for instance of the chemical reagents used in testing, and the looming shortage of trained medical personnel. The U.S. government’s invocation last week of the Defense Production Act (DPA), a Cold War law allowing it to prioritize and allocate resources to help expand private industries in strategic sectors, is a step on this road to constructing a larger medical mass-production base.

But as historian Tim Barker points out, the DPA is not the only model for such resource mobilization, or even the most effective one. There are models less reliant on the private sector than the DPA; one important peacetime predecessor is the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration. This sort of public scheme would be able to put to work the large numbers of workers who are facing unemployment in the coming weeks and months. Besides having positive economic side effects, such public employment expands state capacity and removes the need to rely on improvised exploitative labor practices, such as New York State’s use of prison labor to mass-produce hand sanitizer.

War-economic production is often conceived of as a national enterprise. But most war economies in the 20th century were deeply international in their supply lines. The medical mobilization against COVID-19 will have to be similarly global. There are currently about 173,000 ventilators in the United States. In the short term, the increase in American needs alone will probably exceed the entire global annual production of 40,000 to 50,000 machines. Given the complex nature and high sanitary requirements of ventilator assembly, even the DPA will only allow a small conversion of manufacturing plants for medical machine production. The shortage cannot be solved within national borders. East Asia, where the virus is under relative control, is where ventilators can be produced on a serious scale. Just as Lend-Lease and the Berlin airlift provided U.S.-produced war material for the rest of the world in the 1940s, so the realities of the global manufacturing base in 2020 suggest that mass airlifts of ventilators and machine parts from China will be needed to support adequate Western emergency care.

Beyond the immediate treatment of those infected with coronavirus, however, Western governments have almost universally shut down rather than ramped up production. As one financial analyst pointed out, “lockdown economics” is in many ways the exact opposite of the wartime economics of total mobilization. During both world wars, economic mobilization enrolled unprecedentedly large groups of male and female workers in mass production. The coronavirus’s disruption of supply chains and the social distancing measures of today, however, are currently putting millions of employees in the manufacturing and service sectors out of work.

Read the rest of this article at: Foreign Policy

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

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On April 18, 1872, Austin Bidwell walked into Green & Son tailors on London’s renowned Savile Row and ordered eight bespoke suits, two topcoats, and a luxurious dressing gown. Bidwell was 26 years old, 6ft tall, and handsomely groomed with a waxed mustache and bushy side-whiskers. If the accent didn’t give it away, his eye-catching western hat marked him out as an American — a rich American. London tradesmen called Americans with bulges of money in their pockets “Silver Kings,” and they were most welcome in upmarket establishments like Green & Son, which charged as much for the strength of their reputations as for the quality of their goods.

As master tailor Edward Green busied himself around his store, young Austin, lips clamped around a cigar, explained he was a businessman who had crossed the Atlantic to introduce Pullman railroad cars to England. Austin was setting up a factory to manufacture the cars and he expected to spend a lot of time in London. He would likely need to expand his wardrobe. The obliging tailor, with dollar signs in his eyes, recorded the order and asked Austin to sign the ledger. Austin Biron Bidwell took a pen, dipped the nib into an ink reservoir, and signed his name as “F. A. Warren.” For Frederick Albert Warren, the ten-million-dollar con was on.

Read the rest of this article at: Longreads

News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On a cold March afternoon in 1949, Wolfgang Leonhard slipped out of the East German Communist Party Secretariat, hurried home, packed what few warm clothes he could fit into a small briefcase, and then walked to a telephone box to call his mother. “My article will be finished this evening,” he told her. That was the code they had agreed on in advance. It meant that he was escaping the country, at great risk to his life.

Though only 28 years old at the time, Leonhard stood at the pinnacle of the new East German elite. The son of German Communists, he had been educated in the Soviet Union, trained in special schools during the war, and brought back to Berlin from Moscow in May 1945, on the same airplane that carried Walter Ulbricht, the leader of what would soon become the East German Communist Party. Leonhard was put on a team charged with re‑creating Berlin’s city government.

He had one central task: to ensure that any local leaders who emerged from the postwar chaos were assigned deputies loyal to the party. “It’s got to look democratic,” Ulbricht told him, “but we must have everything in our control.”

Leonhard had lived through a great deal by that time. While he was still a teenager in Moscow, his mother had been arrested as an “enemy of the people” and sent to Vorkuta, a labor camp in the far north. He had witnessed the terrible poverty and inequality of the Soviet Union, he had despaired of the Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941, and he knew about the Red Army’s mass rapes of women following the occupation. Yet he and his ideologically committed friends “instinctively recoiled from the thought” that any of these events were “in diametrical opposition to our Socialist ideals.” Steadfastly, he clung to the belief system he had grown up with.

The turning point, when it came, was trivial. While walking down the hall of the Central Committee building, he was stopped by a “pleasant-looking middle-aged man,” a comrade recently arrived from the West, who asked where to find the dining room. Leonhard told him that the answer depended on what sort of meal ticket he had—different ranks of officials had access to different dining rooms. The comrade was astonished: “But … aren’t they all members of the Party?”

Leonhard walked away and entered his own, top-category dining room, where white cloths covered the tables and high-ranking functionaries received three-course meals. He felt ashamed. “Curious, I thought, that this had never struck me before!” That was when he began to have the doubts that inexorably led him to plot his escape.

At exactly that same moment, in exactly the same city, another high-ranking East German was coming to precisely the opposite set of conclusions. Markus Wolf was also the son of a prominent German Communist family. He also spent his childhood in the Soviet Union, attending the same elite schools for children of foreign Communists as Leonhard did, as well as the same wartime training camp; the two had shared a bedroom there, solemnly calling each other by their aliases—these were the rules of deep conspiracy—although they knew each other’s real names perfectly well. Wolf also witnessed the mass arrests, the purges, and the poverty of the Soviet Union—and he also kept faith with the cause. He arrived in Berlin just a few days after Leonhard, on another plane full of trusted comrades, and immediately began hosting a program on the new Soviet-backed radio station. For many months he ran the popular You Ask, We Answer. He gave on-air answers to listeners’ letters, often concluding with some form of “These difficulties are being overcome with the help of the Red Army.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 06.08.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On the first Monday in May, the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington was on coronavirus lockdown — or at least it appeared to be from the outside. Signs posted on the outer doors facing Independence Avenue admonished visitors to keep out if they had symptoms of Covid-19 or had been “exposed to any person diagnosed” with it. Inside, the guards operating the X-ray machines wore masks and gloves. Across the lobby, a free-standing pump of hand sanitizer cast a cautionary shadow down empty marble halls.

But as you drew closer to the fifth floor, where Attorney General William Pelham Barr works out of a suite of offices, things started to loosen up. One assistant outside his conference room wore a mask, but the other did not. In the middle of the room, with its oil paintings and vaulted ceiling, the long central table had fewer chairs than you might expect, and an appropriate distance between them. But past the next door, inside the attorney general’s smaller personal office, Barr himself was also mask-free. Turning around to greet his visitors, he moved into the middle of a wide circle of four chairs arranged in front of his desk.

Now nearing the end of his career, Barr did not take his current job for the glory. He had already been attorney general once, in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, winning him a reputation as a wise old man — a reputation that, in the eyes of some, his tenure in the Trump administration has tarnished. Nor is he doing it for the money. His time in corporate America earned him tens of millions of dollars in compensation and stock options, and his bearing is still that of a Fortune 500 counsel, cozy manners wrapped around a harder core.

“I’m not going to insist that you have a mask,” Barr said, though I had been asked to bring one. His tone was jokingly conspiratorial, as though he were making an exception for an old friend. Barr is sometimes described as “rumpled,” an adjective that also captures his professorial manner. His speaking voice is very soft, just loud enough to be consistently perceptible; his accent is patrician, with a trace of old New York. His personality breaks through mostly in frequent moments of humor, which range from clubby chuckles to tension-breaking eruptions.

“If you want to take it off … ,” an aide added. Barr crossed the circle of chairs, grinning away any awkwardness. We bumped elbows. “I’m not going to infect you,” he said in the same joshing tone. The greater risk, of course, was that I might infect him, given his cabinet-level access to regular coronavirus testing, the difference in our ages, Barr’s regular meetings with the president and the mostly one-way prophylactic value of masks in general.

“Go ahead and take it off,” his aide suggested again. I took it off.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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