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HI! PLEASE WHITE LIST US WITH YOUR ADBLOCKER. WE REALLY NEED YOUR SUPPORT AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU!

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Why America Feels Like a Post-Soviet State | The New Yorker

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I’ve been plagued by a nauseating sense of recognition lately. Story after story of the pandemic response in the United States reminds me of the country that I spent most of my professional life writing about: the Soviet Union and also the Russian state that was born after its collapse but which couldn’t shake many of its traits.

One persistent Soviet trait is the ways in which Russian institutions handle information—what we might call “the culture of reporting upstairs.” The best-known example is the Soviet government’s coverup of the extent, nature, and danger of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. This wasn’t only, or even primarily, a matter of suppressing uncomfortable truths. What drove officials to lie was not so much a desire to conceal the facts from ordinary people as it was a need to supply the leadership with upbeat reports. For many officials, before and after Chernobyl, the production of cheerful stories that were entirely divorced from reality was a full-time job. They lied about the number of shoes that the country’s factories had made and about the length and location of roads that its workers had built. (Once, when I was eleven or so, my parents saw a television story about a newly built road and decided to take a trip to it in our recently acquired Zhiguli car. It turned out that there was no road—only a few feet of pavement where the report had been filmed.) Little that was made or said by official Soviet institutions fit, worked as intended, or made any sense, because so much of it existed only for the purpose of reporting upstairs. (An old Soviet joke: “What doesn’t buzz and doesn’t fit in your ass? A Soviet machine for buzzing inside your ass.”)

I find myself recognizing this culture in the U.S. now, when, for example, I read a report in the Times on how the Trump Administration convinced itself, back in April, that the COVID-19 pandemic was on the wane. Or when the Administration shifted the duty of collecting coronavirus data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Department of Health and Human Services—the C.D.C. had been pliant but not, it seemed, pliant enough for Trump. Could moving data collection to a Cabinet agency explain why the curve of new cases seemed to flatten? I felt a similar sense of recognition when I read the Times’ report on the fifty-two-million-dollar temporary hospital in New York City that ended up treating a total of seventy-nine COVID-19 patients, while people died of the virus in other hospitals, sometimes for lack of access to care. The facility, set up at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in Queens, turned some patients away because they weren’t sick enough and others because they had a fever. Because confusion reigned over whether patients could be transferred there from other hospitals, very few were. The chaos recalled the U.S.N.S. Comfort, which also was supposed to ease the burden on hospitals in New York City. At what was nearly the local peak of the pandemic, only twenty of its thousand beds were occupied. Arcane and absurd rules and procedures kept it from admitting more patients. I thought back to all the times when I would tell a story about Russia to an American friend, and how they couldn’t understand how nonsensical rules could govern and destroy people’s lives. I could never really explain it, and I always had the sense that my friends didn’t quite believe me. For example: a person who had served time in prison in the U.S.S.R. could not obtain a residence registration—a government permit to live at a particular address—if they didn’t have a job, and they couldn’t get a job without a residence registration; not working, in turn, was an offense punishable by incarceration.

The intentional institutional ineptitude and callous nihilism of contemporary Russian society is the product of a seventy-year Soviet totalitarian experiment—or so I have long believed. No such experiment took place in the United States. So how is it that the pandemic has made the U.S. resemble the post-Soviet Russian state? Part of the explanation lies with Donald Trump himself, in the ways in which he performs power. He acts like a totalitarian leader in the absence of totalitarianism—a Mafia boss without a Mafia—and to an astonishing degree he gets away with this act. He has created a culture of reporting upstairs that is reminiscent of the Central Committee of the Communist Party; as a result, Deborah Birx, once a highly respected public-health leader, is suddenly willing to obscure the impact of COVID-19 for him, and the C.D.C. downplays its own safety guidance in urging schools to reopen. Some of the enabling behavior in Trump’s entourage can be explained by the President’s ability to damage almost any Republican politician’s career with a single tweet. But it is harder to understand why people who could leave the government to work in the private sector, without having to appease a deranged boss or debase themselves daily, continue to take part in his show.

It may be obvious to an individual within a labyrinthine bureaucracy that things ought to be done differently—that a person should not be turned away from a hospital for having a fever—but individual actors have little power as cogs in the machine. In the cases of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the U.S.N.S. Comfort, one might have imagined Governor Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio intervening to cut through red tape—each of them likes a grand gesture, and in their coronavirus responses they worked not in concert with but explicitly in opposition to the President. Still, bureaucratic absurdities dominated much of their conduct, and in the end they enforced irrational and inhumane rules.

The U.S. and Russia have vastly different cultures, incomparable histories, disparate ideological influences, and divergent economies. One similarity that unites them, however, is radical inequality. In the Soviet Union, members of the Party élite lived in a different universe than the rest of the country. They had their own neighborhoods, schools, roads, resorts, stores, and, of course, their own health-care system. This is still true. A wealthy and well-connected Russian can receive world-class medical care, while ordinary people are reduced, much like in Soviet days, to having to buy their own disposable syringes and pay cash for nursing care in the hospital. Wealthy Americans also live in a different universe, and when they get sick they land in different hospitals than middle- and lower-class Americans—which, as the coronavirus has shown, makes it much more likely that they will survive.

This radical inequality was a direct cause of the Soviet culture of reporting upstairs. The people who received and passed on the final reports of the number of shoes manufactured and roads built did not wear the shoes and did not travel the roads. It did not matter whether these stories were true, because those other people who used the shoes and roads, the ordinary Russians, might as well have never existed. This same culture permeates Trump’s Washington. Members of his Administration will not die because of a shortage of nursing care; they will not be turned away from any medical facility, and their children will not be attending any of the public schools that the Administration is forcing to reopen. They feel invincible. Trump can refuse to wear a mask, and his officials can stand by his side at his coronavirus briefings, because when they talk about the pandemic they are not talking about themselves. Neither was Cuomo, nor was de Blasio, talking about himself when he held briefings in New York. The disproportionate number of deaths among poor New Yorkers—the plain reality that many died because they had lesser medical care or no medical care—does not detract from New York’s pride in successfully flattening the curve. This fundamental sense of division—of alienation—between the people who run things and the people who die is what makes the rest of the pathetic debacle possible: the runaway bureaucracy, the adverse incentives, the lying. It’s possible because we are not in this together.


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"For example: a person who had served time in prison in the U.S.S.R. could not obtain a residence registration—a government permit to live at a particular address—if they didn’t have a job, and they couldn’t get a job without a residence registration; not working, in turn, was an offense punishable by incarceration."
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cognitiveinequality: Admit it: there was a split second where...

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cognitiveinequality:

Admit it: there was a split second where you thought this was a real exchange, wasn’t there?

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FourSquare, qv
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Defund the Police? We’ve Already Done It Successfully in America.

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The American system of law enforcement is so deeply embedded into our national psyche that if you find the idea of defunding or abolishing the police challenging, I don’t blame you. But imagine calling an ambulance because a loved one was having trouble breathing or was suffering a stroke and, instead of the expected trained paramedics, a man with a gun showed up. Not great, right? As Jamie Ford explains in this thread, that was not unusual in America until recently.

Until the 70s, ambulance services were generally run by local police and fire departments. There was no law requiring medical training beyond basic first-aid and in many cases the assignment of ambulance duty was used as a form of punishment.

As you can imagine, throwing people with medical emergencies into the back of a paddy wagon produced less than spectacular health outcomes. Now imagine how much worse it became when disgruntled white police officers were demoted to ambulance duty in black neighborhoods.

From Kevin Hazzard’s The First Responders:

Emergency care was mostly a transportation industry, focused on getting patients to hospitals, and it was dominated by two groups: funeral homes and police departments. Call the local authorities for help and you’d likely get morticians in a hearse or cops in a paddy wagon. If you received any treatment en route to the hospital — and most likely you did not — it wouldn’t be very good. At best, one of the people helping may have taken a first-aid course. At worst, you’d ride alone in the back, hoping, if you were conscious, that you’d survive.

Pittsburgh’s Freedom House Ambulance Service changed all that, ushering in a new era of much improved medical care for communities around the US.

Together the two men hashed out a plan: Hallen would raise the money, Safar would contribute his medical expertise, and together they would design advanced ambulances and teach paramedics to provide care on the scene of an accident or emergency. It would be a pioneering medical effort, and Hallen, who was white, suggested another first. The Falk Fund was committed to mitigating racism, and Hallen wanted to staff the service with young black men from the Hill. He hoped that empowering individuals long deemed unemployable would be a source of pride in the black community, a symbol of equality, and a signal that bigoted notions about the black people of Pittsburgh standing in their own way were nonsense.

To help with recruitment, Hallen and Safar partnered with an organization called Freedom House Enterprises, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing and supporting black-run businesses in the city. Freedom House handled staffing for the fledgling ambulance service and recruited the first class of paramedics, including Vietnam veterans and men with criminal records.

So this is a great instance in which armed and untrained police officers have been relieved of a particular responsibility and replaced with specially trained personnel, resulting in a greatly improved outcome for members of the community. If you want other examples, just think about how odd, unhelpful, and dangerous it would be for our communities if the police showed up — armed with a loaded weapon — to collect your garbage, to put out fires, to inspect restaurants, to fix potholes, or to deliver the mail. No, we have sanitation workers, firefighters, public health inspectors, municipal maintenance workers, and postal workers to do these jobs — and they’re all trained in the ins and outs of their particular disciplines.

With these examples in mind, instead of armed personnel handling a wide variety of situations for which they are often not trained, it becomes easier to imagine traffic patrols conducting transportation safety stops, social workers responding to domestic disputes, special crisis centers assisting rape victims, mental health counselors helping people behaving erratically in public, housing guides finding homeless folks a place to stay, student safety coaches helping struggling students navigate school, unarmed personnel responding to property crime, and drug addiction counselors helping drug users stay safe. These are all areas where American communities have applied policing by default, like a flimsy bandaid. It’s ineffective, expensive, and dangerous, and communities should think seriously about supporting and funding alternatives that will be more effective, cheaper, safer, and produce better outcomes for everyone.

Tags: cities   crime   Jamie Ford   medicine   policing
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Yay!

Southern Disaster

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HEYO! PLEASE FOLLOW @LAMEBOOK ON INSTAGRAM! THANK YOU!!

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I'm dying. :D
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He died.
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Ohio Lawmakers Vote to Remove Speaker

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The Ohio House of Representatives has voted unanimously to remove Larry Householder (R) as Ohio House speaker a little more than one week following his arrest on federal corruption allegations, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

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It took The Ohio House of Representatives a little more that one week AFTER his arrest on corruption charges to remove Larry Householder (R) as Ohio House speaker.
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