During COVID-19, garbage collection is essential and dangerous

The daily dirty work of “cleaning behind the blades,” when garbage workers have to climb inside truck beds, touching loose trash and “garbage juice” to clean what gets stuck behind the blades that compact the trash, is now even more dangerous, says Chuck Stiles, head of the Teamsters solid waste and recycling division.

Soiled diapers from nursing homes, food waste from residential areas—”You’re literally walking in that stuff to clean your truck,” he says. “Stuff is splattering, there’s no protective gear for that whatsoever, no face shields, no Tyvek suits. . . . And then you’re taking that back to your home.”

Source: During COVID-19, garbage collection is essential and dangerous

Coronavirus could put thousands of startups out of business

Ordinarily, startups aim to raise enough capital to last them for one to two years of operation. But with the global economy in the tank, access to new venture capital has been largely cut off. According to Pitchbook analyst Alexander Davis, 7,200 of the U.S. startups in his firm’s database were likely running out of cash by mid-March.

Most of those identified probably raised capital between 12 and 18 months ago. Meanwhile, the bills kept coming. For most companies, salaries are their biggest expense, and layoffs have become commonplace across the startup landscape.

Source: Coronavirus could put thousands of startups out of business

How the virus could boomerang on Facebook, Google and Amazon | POLITICO

The pandemic has hit the biggest tech companies too, of course, with both Google and Facebook reporting this week that their digital ad revenue plunged as the economy began shutting down in March. But their smaller tech rivals are suffering far worse — as are the ad-dependent media companies that have shed tens of thousands of jobs and the vast numbers of brick-and-mortar retailers that may never reopen.

The result is a looming economic imbalance that could provide even more fuel for antitrust hawks from both parties, who say the leading tech companies have spent years abusing their power by bullying and buying up rivals. And that was before the outbreak reinforced society’s growing dependence on the tech industry, leaving millions more Americans buying essential supplies from Amazon while using apps from Facebook, Google and Microsoft to communicate, attend school or conduct business.

The virus “has unmasked how big and powerful these companies are,” said Rachel Bovard, a senior adviser to the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative group partially funded by Oracle that is pushing for antitrust tech probes.

Source: How the virus could boomerang on Facebook, Google and Amazon – POLITICO

Jennifer Santos: DoD Sees Uptick in Adversarial Capital in US Tech Firms | Executive Gov

Jennifer Santos, deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy, said the Department of Defense (DoD) has witnessed a rise in “adversarial capital” in U.S. technology companies, including small drone providers, during the coronavirus pandemic, C4ISRNET reported Wednesday.

“In general terms, there has been of an uptick, but it’s always been pretty high,” Santos said Wednesday during the C4ISRNET Conference.

She noted about the dominance of foreign companies in the small unmanned aerial systems sector and said that Chinese companies control 97 percent of the market.

Source: Jennifer Santos: DoD Sees Uptick in Adversarial Capital in US Tech Firms – Executive Gov

Stacey Abrams: American Leadership Begins at Home

America’s leadership on the global stage has always been grounded not only in the power of our ideals but also in the power of our example. That power of example includes competence in harnessing resources and delivering solutions for citizens, and it is one reason why this moment is so consequential for the United States and for its friends and allies abroad. The struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic is an enormous test of a government’s ability to deliver solutions—and by extension, of a country’s ability to lead. It is a test that the United States is currently failing.

Our country has faced national and international crises before, but never with a president as oblivious to the danger at hand. We are typically expected to lead close allies, like-minded states, and other democracies in critical global efforts, but our present national leadership has instead fumbled the defense at home, embracing half-truths and rejecting expertise, and adopted a dangerous go-it-alone approach abroad. Others have stepped into the breach, from American governors and mayors to the leaders of other democracies around the world, many of whom have made great strides in protecting their citizens despite having fewer resources and weaker infrastructures. But the United States finds itself in a dire predicament: it has the world’s highest death toll and greatest number of infections, its doctors are reusing medical gowns and nurses are wearing garbage bags, it has a shortage of ventilators, masks, swabs, and vials.

The country that rescued Europe, defeated communism, and built the liberal international order daily fails the test of leadership, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives and of the United States’ place in the world.

American foreign policy succeeds best when it is grounded in a commitment to lead in the protection of the common good. But that commitment must begin with our own citizens and communities. The pandemic offers a startling reminder that effective governance and a flourishing democracy at home are the foundation of American leadership in the world.

COVID-19 arrived at a moment when authoritarianism had already been tightening its grip on the international political landscape for more than a decade. In 2019, political freedom declined around the world for the 14th consecutive year, according to Freedom House. Xenophobia and populism have been on the rise, and faith in democratic ideals has declined.

Yet the greatest challenge to liberal democracy today comes not from overseas threats but from domestic dysfunction. If democracies fail to provide the competent and sure-footed governance that their citizens demand, support for their institutions will decline, and support for the false promises of populist demagogues will grow.

As it has crippled economies and shuttered countries around the globe, the pandemic has become a seductive opportunity for those who seek to bolster autocracy. China has aggressively pushed the message that it responded decisively and responsibly to the mounting death toll while the United States dithered. American governors have been forced to take to social media and press conferences to beg for assistance for their citizens as China’s president has made a show of providing support to countries that would typically have looked to the United States for help. The 40-year fracturing of the United States’ public health infrastructure and a concomitant attack on the legitimacy of science has meant that the nation that once led the world must now bid on the open market to serve its people. The resource constraints, the infighting, the racism directed at Asian Americans: all of it feeds the fear that democracy is enfeebled and autocracy is on the march.

Authoritarians, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, have already seized on the moment to strengthen their positions and marginalize civil society, opposition movements, and activists. (U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to defund rather than renovate the World Health Organization—apparently a feint to cover up failures to heed warnings from Americans working there—plays into the authoritarian playbook, which aims to discredit the international institutions that might check dictatorial power.) In already struggling democracies, the crisis has given populists an excuse to restrict freedoms, accelerating democratic backsliding. Leaders in Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, and beyond seek to use economic collapse and public fear to justify concentrations of power; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, for example, attempted to override the constitutional authority of governors.

The false allure of authoritarianism lies in the demonstration of decisive action in the midst of turmoil. That allure deepens when democracies fail to show that they can do better. The risk today is that the Trump administration’s failures will be misread or miscast as the failure of democracy itself.

Authoritarian leaders, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, are already making that point, citing American missteps as proof of their own political system’s superiority. But authoritarians have not actually proved to be better equipped to confront the virus. Iran has experienced one of the worst outbreaks in the world, and the infection rate in Russia continues to climb. And of course, the world would not be facing this global tragedy if Beijing had responded with courage and clarity from the beginning, instead of trying to cover up the virus’s spread.

In fact, the nature of a country’s political system has not been the determining factor in how it has responded to the global pandemic. The variable that has mattered is competence—bringing the right mix of skills, capacity, and execution to the problem at hand. Nations that have contained the outbreak moved fast, shut down public venues, rapidly scaled up testing, and made informed decisions based on the advice of experts and the best data. Many of those nations, such as Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan, are democracies. But the fact that the world’s leading democracy has failed to demonstrate such competence reinforces the narrative authoritarian leaders are trying to peddle: that democracy is not suited to effective governance.

Around the country, we see clear examples that the United States can do better. Mayors are coordinating across state lines to share resources. County public health officials are lobbying congressional leaders to fund hospitals and clinics overwhelmed by need. Governors are creating regional alliances and shipping supplies to reinforce waning inventories in hard-hit states. And as national press briefings have devolved into confrontation, partisanship, and falsehoods, leadership at other levels of government has often been driven by cooperation, bipartisanship, and science.

But such local efforts can only go so far in delivering for our people without a federal commitment to the brutal quotidian work of getting government right. Economists predicting a quick rebound are engaged in financial phrenology, and politicians expecting a quick return to the prepandemic norm are willfully underestimating the enormity of this crisis. To recover from it, our leaders will have to embrace unprecedented cooperation at the local, state, and federal levels. The federal government will have to buttress decimated state and local budgets and set broad rules for how to repair a frayed social and public health infrastructure and a struggling economy. State leaders will have to adapt these national efforts to their specific needs—whether urban, suburban, rural, or outcast—even as counties and cities, which have the least flexible budgets, will be charged with carrying out responses closest to the people.

But although our obligation must start with the recovery of the United States, it cannot end there. As a nation, we will continue to grapple with the question of where we sit in an international system of our own making—a global order that has served the United States and its allies better than any other. What cannot be in question is our obligation and commitment to defend the primacy of democracy in the world today. The next president can renew American leadership and restore global faith in the democratic order. But that will require standing both as a global leader in a time of crisis and as an exemplar of competent, democratic government.

With renewed leadership, the United States could spearhead an international effort to provide vital humanitarian assistance to nations overrun by COVID-19. It could build a global coalition to blunt the economic effects on the most vulnerable—at home and abroad. It could help lead the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, in a coordinated effort to distribute vaccines, medical equipment, and know-how.

Most important, a renewed America could rebuild its capacity to confront the next pandemic. A strengthened, U.S.-led, global health-security network, armed with the best that science and international communication can offer and an eagerness to share solutions with all who require them, could not only stave off the next health crisis but also demonstrate that democracy remains the most just, humane, and competent form of government in an ailing world. As the world labors to both overcome the current crisis and prevent another from taking shape, now is the time to reclaim the United States’ standing in the world by restoring our democracy to its full operating force and reentering the global arena as a true leader of nations. We, and the world, cannot afford to wait.

Source: Stacey Abrams: American Leadership Begins at Home

The Pandemic Won’t Save the Climate | Foreign Affairs

The economic free fall accompanying the coronavirus pandemic has, by some measures, made the world a cleaner place. Air pollution in Chinese, Indian, and U.S. cities is way down. In China alone, lower air pollution may have saved more lives than the virus has killed so far. In New York City, some pollutants dropped by more than half in just a week.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief long-term cause of climate warming, are on track to drop by eight percent this year. All that cleaner air has come at a huge, unacceptable cost.

But could the pandemic lay the foundation for more serious action to protect the environment—including on the greatest of all environmental problems, climate change?

The short answer is: Probably not.

Some observers hope that the post-pandemic world will be more inclined to heed scientists’ calls for climate action. Others predict that the enormous cost of stimulus programs—the top ten economies have already committed $7 trillion in recovery spending, with more on the way—might make it easier politically for governments to introduce new and higher carbon taxes and climate-friendly fiscal policies, perhaps even a global Green New Deal to right past wrongs.

But these hopes don’t stack up against the politics unfolding in the real world. Most of the evidence points the other way.

Keeping emissions down permanently would require what climate scientists call “deep decarbonization”: a massive, long-term investment to shift industry and agriculture away from conventional fossil fuels and production methods. That was always a monumental, though achievable, task. The pandemic will make it much harder.

The historical pattern of carbon dioxide emissions is not encouraging. Ever since the oil crisis of the early 1970s, emissions have sloped steadily upward, despite periodic recessions that temporarily sapped global energy demand. The first oil crisis spurred major advances in energy efficiency, which helped lower emissions, but it also encouraged many countries to rely more on coal (which most governments saw as more secure in supply), a source of energy so polluting as to cancel out many of the gains from increased efficiency.

The second oil crisis, in 1979, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s both played out similarly: emissions plateaued or sank for a while after each shock, only to rise again afterward. In some cases, such as after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, emissions roared back even faster than before. As long as the global economy remains dependent on conventional fossil fuels and high-emission industrial processes, and as long as powerful structural forces drive up demand, the pattern will persist. The economic recovery that follows the current pandemic looks to be no different.

People’s imagination and optimism tend to get in the way of good forecasting. The conditions of today—with everyone stuck at home and holding meetings on Zoom—make it easy to imagine a future with much less high-emission air travel. But history suggests that once incomes start growing again and lockdowns are lifted, people will not remain hunkered down. The higher their incomes, the more mobile people are and the more emissions they cause as a result.

The superwealthy don’t stay at home even if they can visit the Uffizi virtually using HD video. They fly to Florence in person. At the height of the first oil shock, U.S. President Richard Nixon told Americans: “We will not have to stop air travel, but we will have to plan for it more carefully.” Little careful planning happened. After the shock subsided, air travel bounced back. Later, the sector was deregulated in ways that created more competition and lower prices, and demand grew even faster.

Now the global economy has plunged into a deep recession. Hard economic times rarely inspire support for aspirational missions with seemingly abstract benefits. The best polling data show that the public does want clean energy—but it also wants cheap energy, and the difficulty of marrying clean and cheap will force policymakers, in the short term, to prioritize one over the other. Before the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, public opinion was already polarized, with few voters outside a narrow band on the left naming climate change as a top priority. The pandemic will further winnow that community of supporters.

Governments around the world are pumping money into their slumping economies, but so far they are not spending it in ways that will lead to cleaner energy. In the United States, the current plans stand in stark contrast to those of the 2009 stimulus, which nearly tripled U.S. federal spending on energy-related research and development—most of it focused on making the energy system greener—for more than a year.

The single most important innovation program at the U.S. Department of Energy (the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, best known as ARPA-E) got its start with the 2009 stimulus funds, as did many other effective programs to deploy new, efficient technology in the economy. Innovation spending of this kind is essential to cutting emissions, because none of the technologies needed for deep decarbonization yet exist.

This year’s government stimulus programs are much larger than their predecessors, but to date, their investment in innovation is practically zero. (Analysts have outlined some pragmatic ways to use stimulus funds to boost innovation, and their proposals might gain traction in the next rounds of stimulus.)

The United States could not in any case make much of a difference on its own. Global climate change is, fundamentally, a problem that requires international action. The countries that are most motivated to act account for a declining share of global emissions, meaning that they cannot fix the problem by themselves. Instead, they need frameworks that encourage other countries to follow their lead. Yet even before the pandemic caused countries to turn inward, the rise of populism had made building and sustaining such globe-spanning institutions increasingly difficult.

The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, for instance, was already fragile. Later this year, its signatory states are supposed to offer updated plans for more ambitious national efforts to cut emissions. Some countries may still go ahead with this even after the macroeconomic blow of the pandemic, notably in Europe, where commitment to climate action remains robust. But in most other regions, such plans will likely be tabled. The pandemic, put simply, will not do much to help the climate other than temporarily reduce emissions. If anything, the signals point in the opposite direction.

Political realism is not the same as defeatism. Those who advocate decarbonization have envisioned better futures. Making those visions real will be a matter not of evoking dreamy scenarios but of aligning the opportunities for deep decarbonization with the new politics of the pandemic.

Debates around decarbonization often focus on technological innovation and big-picture policies, such as carbon pricing, and elide the realities of governance, as though one could assume leaders who are skilled, motivated, and endowed with public trust. The pandemic has put such assumptions to the test. In some places—South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, and California, among others—officials have been decisive and relatively effective, at least so far. In much of the rest of the world—including in Italy, in the United Kingdom, and at the national level in the United States—governments have shown themselves less competent than imagined.

The same governments that are flailing now would likely struggle to muster the resources and public trust that ambitious climate action would demand after the pandemic. They will have to carefully align any steps toward decarbonization with what is on the public’s mind: green stimulus must be measured, first and foremost, against the ability to generate quick and meaningful employment.

Stimulus proposals also can’t ignore the constraints of working during a pandemic—for example, retrofitting homes with energy-efficient appliances would require workers to enter private homes at a time when people have suddenly become wary of proximity. (That wariness probably won’t abate quickly.)

The most effective programs will be those that center on industries that already exist, already deliver low-carbon energy services, and are currently stumbling because supply chains have faltered. The solar and wind industries are good examples, as are nuclear plants, which are also emission-free. These well-established sectors can respond quickly if pulsed with cash. Keeping renewable energy incentives in place (and offering something similar to keep nuclear plants open) will help stabilize low-emission industries while reliably employing workers. Washington should also turn tax credits for zero-emission technologies into simple cash payments, as it did during the 2008–9 financial crisis. (A tax credit is useful when firms are making taxable profits but not when the whole economy is in the red.) Such measures are easy to deploy and can help shore up the economy while keeping emissions from spiking, as has often happened during recoveries in the past.

Governments should look further down the line to consider how stimulus money can generate jobs while also putting entire economies on a greener track. One step is to pull dirtier equipment out of service while spurring demand for new gear. After the 2008–9 financial crisis, households cut back on buying new (and thus more fuel-efficient) cars, a slump whose effects can still be seen today.

With millions of families in dire straits, investment in new cars is about to drop further. And without any incentives for efficiency, what new cars people do purchase will guzzle gas. (Last month, for the first time in history, trucks outsold cars in the United States.)

A cash-for-clunkers program could offer some reprieve, both by softening the blow to the auto industry and by getting cleaner vehicles into the streets. The same can be done for old, inefficient airplanes. So far, however, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has gone the other way and announced a plan to relax fuel economy standards for cars. Lots of other governments are introducing similar regulatory rollbacks, designed to boost industrial activity but liable only to produce unhelpful confusion as firms rebuild their production lines.

One of the hardest tests for politicians will concern the most polluting fuel—coal. Because renewables and nuclear energy plants have low operating costs, they can ride out temporary drops in energy demand. The same is not true for the coal industry, which is poised for big layoffs. Here, the demands of politics and climate action will clash head-on—and leaders must find ways to resist calls for an environmentally disastrous bailout of conventional coal.

Publics won’t sign on to lofty climate goals in the middle of an economic crisis—but they may well support more pragmatic green initiatives tied directly to economic recovery. If governments are successful on this front, they will gain the credibility they need for more ambitious and effective climate action. So far, the U.S. federal government is performing poorly. Some individual U.S. states are doing better, as are a few governments in Europe and Asia.

The pandemic has exposed a fragmented world, with some governments earning trust and spending resources effectively while others are floundering.

And it drives home what has been clear for a long time: serious international action on climate change will not arise from some grand “Kumbaya” moment, in which leaders around the world come together because the novel coronavirus has forced them to shed the scales from their eyes and realize the value of science and cooperation. Rather, the countries that have the wherewithal to steer and rebuild their economies through this crisis will be the ones to lead the coming efforts at environmental reform. They must use their skills wisely to meet a challenge that will not have disappeared. And they must succeed in what could prove the hardest task: getting the rest of the world to follow.

Source: The Pandemic Won’t Save the Climate | Foreign Affairs

How State Department IT Was Set Up to Deal with COVID-19 | Nextgov

In his experience, the best way to deal with IT for a large, decentralized organization is to give more decision-making power to leaders on the ground. McGuigan has spent the last year trying to do just that at State, including establishing the IT Executive Council to enable outposts to manage their own technology needs while getting support from and sharing best practices with the central office.

The groundwork he laid through those efforts has paid off during the current COVID-19 crisis, as his staff and bureaus are well-suited to remote, distributed working.

Source: Critical Update: How State Department IT Was Set Up to Deal with COVID-19 – Nextgov

Is the EU’s COVID-19 Response Losing Central and Eastern Europe to China?

China has made concerted attempts recently to rewrite the global narrative about the coronavirus pandemic, especially its own lack of transparency about the early outbreak in Wuhan, in order to project an image of itself as a responsible global power.

It has shipped medical supplies to help countries around the world contain the virus’s spread, and has launched a far-reaching disinformation campaign about the origins of the contagion and China’s response to it.

Europe has been at the heart of these efforts.

Chinese state media outlets have insinuated that Italy was the source of the novel coronavirus, while Beijing has faulted European countries for their allegedly poor crisis management and supplied medical aid of poor quality. All this has caused a backlash in some quarters of Europe.

As a result, China’s relations with the European Union are likely to become more strained in the post-coronavirus era. At the same time, Brussels fears that Beijing could use the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout as an opportunity to further its political and economic influence among the financially weaker Central, Eastern and Southern European countries.

Source: Is the EU’s COVID-19 Response Losing Central and Eastern Europe to China?

How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease | Route Fifty

The scientists who study how diseases emerge in a changing environment knew this moment was coming. Climate change is making outbreaks of disease more common and more dangerous.

Over the past few decades, the number of emerging infectious diseases that spread to people—especially coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses believed to have come from bats and birds—has skyrocketed.

A new emerging disease surfaces five times a year. One study estimates that more than 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, awaiting an opportunity to jump to people.

The diseases may have always been there, buried deep in wild and remote places out of reach of people. But until now, the planet’s natural defense systems were better at fighting them off.

Source: How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease – Route Fifty

COVID-19 Is Accelerating Trends in the US-China Relationship | Defense One

Policy makers, they say, would do better to spend their limited time in search of opportunities to work together on shared interests, not quickening a final split with fiery rhetoric.

Instead, much of Washington appears drunk on China-bashing, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others, like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Tenn, suggesting (and then walking back) that China may have engineered COVID-19 in a lab. Some hawks in Washington have pushed for greater economic penalties on China for its role in underplaying the dangers of COVID-19.

A GOP strategy memo leaked last month to Politico helps explain why: focusing on China gives Republicans something to talk about that isn’t Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Source: COVID-19 Is Accelerating Trends in the US-China Relationship – Defense One