On the menu today: Plague, Famine, War, Death . . . yup, we’ve got four horsemen on the horizon.
Keeping Social Order during Social Distancing
When the mild-mannered among us stop acting mild-mannered, sit up and take notice.
Adam Schefter is a reporter who covers the NFL for ESPN, and a darn good one. His beat is usually signings and trades and personnel moves. He doesn’t shout much, he doesn’t court controversy, and he rarely criticizes the league’s management. He’s the walking portrait of level-headed amiability.
But yesterday on ESPN, Schefter seemed to reach a point of angry incredulity that the NFL Draft, where teams take turns picking players coming out of college, was scheduled to go forward April 23 to 25. It will be done mostly virtually, without the usual live audience of fans, players in attendance, and hoopla. Schefter can’t believe it’s going forward, during the current crisis:
And we all hope that [the NFL season] happens, frankly. We all want that back. We all want to see the days when we have that distraction of football. We all want [organized team activities]. That’s not happening. The offseason program? That’s not happening. The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly! They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets!
Are we headed towards “carnage in the streets”? At the moment, that sounds overdramatic — at least for those of us in the United States. Hospitals in some cities are in an absolute crisis mode, but for the rest of us, life is quiet and probably increasingly lonely. But fear spurs people to do things they otherwise never would, and there are some ominous indicators for some other parts of the world.
Global Pandemics Do Not Help Food Get Where It Needs to Go
Here in the United States, we’re probably better equipped to endure this crisis that many other countries. For starters, our supply chain for food is at least okay for now; in fact, because of the various trade wars, the U.S. supplies of chicken, beef, soybeans, and dairy are at or near all-time highs. But the virus has forced the temporary closures of certain ports, truck stops, and service areas. Farmers are worried about having enough workers to harvest crops in time. Those who work in the food-processing industries that feed the rest of us get sick, too.
The United States will not face famine. But countries that depend the most upon imported food are going to face higher prices and much greater stress on their societies.
When the Government Fails, Thugs Will See an Opportunity
Italy has its hands full with the coronavirus, with 110,574 cases and 13,155 deaths, as of this writing. (The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the official number “tells only part of the story because many people who die from the virus don’t make it to the hospital and are never tested. In the areas worst hit by the pandemic, Italy is undercounting thousands of deaths caused by the virus, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows, indicating that the pandemic’s human toll may end up being much greater, and infections far more widespread, than official data indicate.”)
Police have been deployed on the streets of Sicily’s capital, Palermo, amid reports gangs are using social media to plot attacks on stores. A bankrupt ferry company halted service to the island, including vital supplies of food and medicines. As the state creaks under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, officials worry the mafia may be preparing to step in . . .
The lockdown has hit the 3.7 million Italians working in the underground economy particularly hard since they don’t receive a regular salary and have difficulty accessing unemployment benefits. Many of them are concentrated in the South.
(Those headlines of “Why I’d Rather Be in Italy for the Coronavirus Pandemic” look different now, huh?)
All around the world, police forces from the best to the worst are being asked to enforce quarantine rules. I suspect extreme conditions like this are a bit like having too much alcohol: It doesn’t change you, it just reveals you. This crisis is going to bring out the best in good cops and the worst in bad cops.
The lockdown conditions put people in a situation where they could be breaking the law for taking mundane actions — and a stressed police force can always respond in the worst way, as apparently recently occurred in Spain:
In one video clip that has been shared widely on social media, officers in northwest Spain’s Basque Country are seen stopping a 22-year-old man and asking him three times why he was out on the street with his mother.
Under Spain’s state of emergency regulations, citizens can only go out alone to buy food, seek medical care, for emergencies or to work in essential industries.
When the man, identified by local media as being of Moroccan background, refuses to explain, officers ask to see his papers.
The film then shows that when the man approaches an officer, he is pushed back to a wall and hit twice with a baton.
Witnesses watching from flats above yell: “Abuse! Abuse!”
His mother, who tries to intervene, is also knocked to the ground by officers.
By the time paperwork was completed and the body was taken to a riverside crematorium on Monday night, local residents had surrounded the hearse, said two police officers, who asked not to be named.
A crowd of around a hundred people demanded the body be taken elsewhere, fearing Samir’s cremation would contaminate the area, one of the officers said.
“The mob grew in numbers and turned aggressive,” the officer said.
Police called in reinforcements and baton-charged the crowd, before cremating Samir’s remains around midnight.
The backlash in Kolkata may not be an anomaly. News reports have emerged across India of mobs harassing people they suspect of carrying the virus, including doctors and air crew.
Some healthcare workers in rental accommodation have been forcefully evicted by their landlords over infection fears, a doctor’s association said this week.
Kenya on Friday began imposing a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and violence quickly followed.
Police fired tear gas at a crowd of hundreds of commuters who tried to reach a ferry in the port city of Mombasa before the first night of curfew began. Elsewhere, officers were captured in mobile phone footage whacking people with batons.
Another death has been blamed on police enforcement of the curfew. A motorcycle taxi driver, Hamisi Juma Mbega, died from his injuries after being beaten. He had breached the curfew by taking a pregnant woman to a hospital in Mombasa, according to a post-mortem report obtained by the AP.
And the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian body established by parliament, said it is looking into another death blamed on police brutality, that of a bicycle taxi driver in Homa Bay county.
It’s a similarly grim scene in South Africa: “South African police and soldiers have used rubber bullets to enforce lockdown after hundreds of shoppers gathered outside a supermarket in Johannesburg.”
Closer to home, you probably heard about the Kansas City extremist who wanted to blow up a hospital. You may not have heard about the lunatic who crashed a train in Los Angeles because he had some nutty conspiracy about the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy:
A train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles was arrested this morning on federal charges for allegedly running a locomotive at full speed off the end of rail tracks near the USNS Mercy.
Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, was charged today in a criminal complaint with one count of train wrecking as a result of an incident Tuesday afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint filed in United States District Court, Moreno admitted in two separate interviews with law enforcement authorities that he intentionally derailed and crashed the train near the Mercy.
Moreno ran the train off the end of tracks, and crashed through a series of barriers before coming to rest more than 250 yards from the Mercy. No one was injured in the incident, and the Mercy was not harmed or damaged in any way. The incident did result in the train leaking a substantial amount of fuel oil, which required clean up by fire and other hazardous materials personnel…
In a second interview with FBI agents, Moreno stated that “he did it out of the desire to ‘wake people up,’” according to the affidavit. “Moreno stated that he thought that the U.S.N.S. Mercy was suspicious and did not believe ‘the ship is what they say it’s for.’”
The Department of Homeland security is warning that terrorist groups may try to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to attack already strained health care systems.
In a bulletin issued Mar. 23, and labeled unclassified, the agency warned, “Violent extremists are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets, and promote their ideologies and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months.”
According to the bulletin, on Mar. 19, ISIS issued a newsletter “which contained calls for attacks in Western countries against healthcare systems that are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The newsletter also included “directions for ISIS supporters to kill (non-Muslims) wherever you find them.”
The memo also says white supremacist extremists have advocated for violence against a range of targets, including critical infrastructure and faith-based and minority communities — including Asian-Americans — in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
White supremacist groups “also have called for infected individuals to intentionally spread COVID-19 in diverse neighborhoods and in religious institutions such as mosques and synagogues,” according to the bulletin.
Are we headed towards “carnage in the streets,” in the sense of mass social unrest and violence? Based upon what we see and know right now, probably not. But there are some people out there who want to make it happen.
ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, the return of the sports world still looks pretty far-off, the 2020 Democratic National Convention is probably not going to go on the way it was scheduled, and Turkmenistan takes the championship for world’s worst response to the coronavirus.