Summary: Recent news stories about COVID-19 reveal much about America. About us. They point to the greatest threat we face, and show how we can win.
News about those perfidious Chinese
Fox News: “Chinese epicenter Wuhan raises number of virus dead by about 50 percent.” Red emphasis added.
“China raised Wuhan’s coronavirus death toll by nearly 50 percent Friday following weeks of allegations that officials were underreporting the numbers to make the situation there look better than it actually was. The city where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated is now reporting 3,869 deaths after adding 1,290 to its previously-announced figure. Numbers of total cases in the city of 11 million were also raised by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s total 82,367 announced cases.
“Chinese state media claimed Friday that the reason for the sudden leap was that medical facilities were overwhelmed during the peak of the outbreak and because of that, ‘belated, missed and mistaken reporting occurred.’ …
”’Due to the insufficiency in admission and treatment capability, a few medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control system in time, while hospitals were overloaded and medics were overwhelmed with patients,’ the official Xinhua News Agency reported, attributing the comments to an unidentified official with Wuhan’s epidemic and prevention and control headquarters. The new figures were compiled through a comparison of data from Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control big data system, the city funeral service system, the municipal hospital authority’s information system, and the nucleic acid test system to “remove double-counted cases and fill in missed cases,’ the mystery official added. …
“‘Well, well, well: After repeatedly defending the accuracy of their data, Chinese officials revise the coronavirus death toll in Wuhan,’ tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.”
This is high grade spin! The “Chinese state media claimed”! A “mystery” official said. This from Fox, whose highly paid stenographers uncritically prints announcements from US government officials who routinely lie on the record about vital matters (see the Big List of Lies) – and gleefully repeats statements from “anonymous” officials without a hint of skepticism (I have never seen calculations on the rating of lying in these “leaks”, but it is probably mind-blowingly high).
More evil deeds reported by the Right
The Right-wing intertubes burned for days with this news: “NYC Officials Just Artificially Increased Their COVID Death Total by 57%” by Joe Saunders at the Western Journal.
“If a national catastrophe isn’t bad enough, make it worse. That appears to be the thinking behind a decision by New York City officials this week that sent the number of dead attributed to the coronavirus outbreak in the city soaring to more than 10,000 — a 57 percent increase over the previous count. And these are numbers Americans are supposed to trust forevermore. Unfortunately, in a United States where the mainstream media daily shows itself to be ever more corrupt, trust is in short supply.”
Joe goes on like this for quite a while. For a more rational report of this news, turn to the NY Times: “N.Y.C. Death Toll Soars Past 10,000 in Revised Virus Count.”
“New York City, already a world epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, sharply increased its death toll by more than 3,700 victims on Tuesday, after officials said they were now including people who had never tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have died of it. …
“The city and the state have at times differed in their counts of the dead in New York City. As of Monday, the state said that 7,349 had died of the virus in the city. City officials have complained that they are at the whim of the state, which has been slow to share the data it receives from hospitals and nursing homes. The state Health Department explained on its website that the discrepancy is caused by the city and state using ‘different data systems.’”
Fun fact! The NYC numbers were increased on April 14, a city of 8 million increasing its count of fatalities by “more than 3700.” On April 17, China increased its fatality count by 1,290 for a city of 11 million – a proportionally smaller increase. But the journalists reporting the story about China had amnesia about the NYC news from three days ago, although that gives important context for the NYC story.
Also note the effect of the large, complex, and often conflicting reporting systems in China and America. When this causes confusion (or chaos) in the US, it is business as usual. When it happens in China, conservatives growl about those untrustworthy yellow people.
Extremists undermining our society
The final numbers for employment and GDP take over a year to produce in the US, with its vast and expensive accounting apparatus. Expect only unreliable numbers during a pandemic by doctors trying to save lives (including their own), with accounting a lower priority.
Complex phenomena are not counted like apples – whether CPI, GDP, or deaths from COVID-19. The definitions and accounting systems for all of these are constantly in motion, changed to reflect new knowledge and new collection systems. Before test kits were widely available (January in China, April in the US), clinical data was used to distinguish COVID-19 from the flu. Shifting to test kits changed the nature of the numbers.
Serological tests are far more sensitive than test kids, and so a larger set of new numbers are coming. For example, see a CNN story about a new study, and Nature article about these tests. We will be told that these bigger numbers show that all those experts were lying when they used the kits they had and not the serological tests that were coming in the future! Trust only us, not the mainstream media liars.
Skillful propaganda is a fast track to fame and fortune in a decadent America. But unless read by a skeptical public, they erode the trust that produces social cohesion. Strong social cohesion has been one of America’s greatest strengths, and allowed us to survive many difficult times. I fear we no longer have it. Low trust societies tend to function poorly and collapse under stress.
The most serious threat to America
Every society anywhere and across history faces many existential threats. Natural disasters, foes foreign and domestic, and changing circumstances to which it cannot adapt. Those who warn of these perform a valuable services, for Andy Grove (the CEO who helped build Intel) said …
“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
I too have written about the many threats to America, and proposed a first step to rationally cope (see We face so many threats, like pandemics. Let’s prepare.) – with recognition being the first step. James Howard Kunstler’s new book is a collection of threats: Living in the Long Emergency. They are all real, of varying probability and severity.
But the past year has changed my view about our greatest danger, the weak link in America. It is us. America was built by the first few Founding generations to be run by active citizens. The farmers, craftsmen, and merchants who read the Federalist Papers and listened to the three hour-long Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 (see the transcripts). People who cared about America, and therefore read the news seriously – not as entertainment.
I fear that we have become weak and easily led like sheep, a gift to our rulers. Since 2003, I have run scores of posts deconstructing current propaganda stories. The common link is that their audiences, Right or Left, do not care if these stories are false. They flee fact-based rebuttals like vampires running from the dawn. News has become tribal in much of America. We like propaganda, and so that is what the news media gives us The press is a business in a free-market economy. They must provide what consumers want, for the same reason McDonald’s serves salty high fat food. A sign of our decay is that we blame businesses for giving us what we want.
We can change. Revival is an inherent capacity of every society and individual. We might not have much time remaining to do so, as the 21st might provide challenges greater than we have seen in a long time.