With cases rising rapidly, a military general with no medical experience leading the Ministry of Health, and a president admitting there’s no proof his preferred treatment will work, Brazil has become one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus.
As health systems, from Sao Paulo to the Amazon, strain under the growing number of cases, policy experts say there’s little hope that the country can change course when the president is one of their biggest obstacles.
“It’s unbelievable what’s happening in Brazil. When the biggest science denier in the country is the president himself, what can we scientists do?” said Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist and researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been among the world leaders most dismissive of the coronavirus, initially downplaying it as a “little flu,” then later responding “so what” when asked about the country’s rising death toll.
His own Ministry of Health had opposed him, promoting physical distancing and quarantines, but Bolsonaro fired popular Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta in April, and then forced his replacement Nelson Teich to resign last week. Both were trained doctors.
“I don’t see any hope in the short term,” Pasternak said. “I think the numbers are going to keep piling up and a lot of people are going to die until we solve the political situation.”
‘A grave situation’
The World Health Organization (WHO) now considers South America the new epicentre of the pandemic, in large part because this week Brazil overtook the United Kingdom for third place in the overall number of COVID-19 cases.
Brazil has more than 310,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths, according to statistics kept by Johns Hopkins University. The country’s Ministry of Health believes the numbers are likely higher because of a lack of effective testing.
WATCH | Bolsonaro minimizes COVID-19 surge in Brazil, promotes hydroxychloroquine:
“Are people dying? Yes they are, and I regret that. But many more are going to die if the economy continues to be destroyed because of these (lockdowns),” Bolsonaro said earlier this month.
On Thursday, Brazil reported more than 18,500 infections, while also suffering a record 1,188 daily coronavirus deaths, eclipsing its previous high set earlier in the week.
“It’s a very grave situation,” said Humberto Costa, a Brazilian senator and former health minister under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
In Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city, fresh graves continue to be dug up in the sprawling Formosa cemetery. Health officials say they’re losing the battle against the virus and the system will be overrun. City and state officials moved holidays up from June and July to this weekend to create an extended break to encourage physical distancing.
In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon rainforest, the mayor is warning that Indigenous tribes will be decimated by the coronavirus. Amazonas state, where Manaus is located, is one of the hardest hit regions of the country.
“I fear genocide and I want to denounce this thing to the whole world. We have here a government that does not care about the lives of the Indians,” Manaus Mayor Arthur Virgilio Neto said.
‘Politicizing the Problem’
While other countries have waited for some signs of the virus slowing down before reopening the economy, Bolsonaro has continually pushed for Brazilians to get back to work, putting him at odds with state governors and mayors trying to curb the spread through lockdowns and quarantines.
“He denies the severity of the disease and he only makes political calculations about what’s best for him,” Costa said.
Observers say Bolsonaro is thinking first about re-election in two years, promoting an economic agenda that resonates with the country’s poorest, who can’t afford to isolate themselves at home.
“He’s following his instinct that the economy needs to reopen and the country cannot face an economic crisis so deep,” said Marcio Coimbra, a political strategist in the capital, Brasilia.
“The middle class and upper class are against the president,” Coimbra said. “But on the other side, the poor people who need to work, they are there supporting the president.”
Costa said Bolsonaro’s actions now are laying the groundwork for what will happen in a few months’ time if the country’s economy continues to suffer because of lockdowns meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Bolsonaro “will say, ‘I told you that the virus was a little problem, the governors and mayors made the wrong measures,'” Costa said.
‘Problems at the Health Ministry’
Some of Bolsonaro’s highest profile clashes have been with his own Ministry of Health. In April, he fired Health Minister Luis Henrique Mandetta who had gained in popularity with his daily technical briefings.
His replacement, Nelson Teich, resigned last week, after refusing to promote Bolsonaro’s desire for wider use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello immediately approved the plan, going against the recommendations of WHO experts in Brazil.
WATCH | Brazil’s worsening COVID-19 crisis:
“We are at war: Worse than being defeated is the shame of not having fought,” Bolsonaro wrote in a post on his official Facebook page in response to his critics.
Pazuello is a military general known as a logistics expert, with no health background. Costa said Pazuello is staffing the ministry with people with military experience, rather than health expertise, which will further hamper the country’s efforts to fight the virus.
“They are politicizing the problem, it’s not a question of science, it’s not a question of medicine, it’s just a question of politics,” Costa said.
Like his ally U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has pushed hydroxychloroquine as a solution to the pandemic, despite admitting that there’s no proof it works.
Health policy expert Miguel Lago said Bolsonaro’s support for the drug is more about politics than medicine.
“Bolsonaro is a very smart politician and he’s trying to understand what can fit a narrative where he appears to be a great leader,” said Lago, executive director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies, a non-profit group based in Rio de Janeiro.
Hope in local governments
Lago said the only hope for Brazil’s efforts lies in state governors and local politicians ignoring directives from the president. States have enforced their own measures in defiance of Bolsonaro’s views, including mandatory masks in public and limits on traffic in major cities
“After two months, we shouldn’t be expecting anything good from the federal government in the sense we should only rely on our local governments.”
Impeachment has been discussed in Brazil. The speaker of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, has more than 30 requests to remove Bolsonaro, but hasn’t acted on them.
The president has maintained control of a fractured Congress, by striking a deal with a centrist group of parties that represent about 40 per cent of votes.
“If he keeps delivering power for votes in Congress, he’ll be able to stay in power until the end of his term,” Coimbra said.
‘No light at the end of the tunnel’
Costa said the peak of COVID-19 cases could come sometime in the middle of June; some projections show Brazil could end up with more than 100,000 dead and more than a million people infected.
According to statistics from the Brazlian tech company Inloco, just over 42 per cent of Brazilians are practising physical distancing, down from a high of around 62 per cent around the end of March.
WATCH | Bolsonaro minimizes COVID-19 surge in Brazil, promotes hydroxychloroquine:
Pasternak said the president’s example, holding rallies, shaking hands and hugging supporters, sends the wrong message to Brazilians who look to him for leadership. She worries about the direction the country is headed.
“I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel right now.”
Week In Politics: U.S. Sees Job Gains In May – NPR
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Of course, when President Trump called in the National Guard in the streets of Washington, D.C., he told governors in a conference call they must be dominating. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us now. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: The president spoke at the White House yesterday for roughly an hour. And with all of the events and ferment going on, he spoke mostly about the May jobs numbers, didn’t he?
ELVING: Yes, indeed, he did. And it may have been the first time we’ve seen a president take a victory lap for 13% unemployment. But, you know, that was a better number than April by almost a point and a half and way better than what economists and journalists were expecting. So it turns out that even after a short period of reopening restaurants and dentist offices and so on, millions of furloughed folks go back, and it offsets the further job losses elsewhere in the economy. And, of course, the president has been cheerleading for quick reopening. And so here he is yesterday describing this recovery.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now we’re opening, and we’re opening with a bang. And we’ve been talking about the V. This is better than a V. This is a rocket ship.
ELVING: One thing about a rocket ship, though, Scott, as a metaphor, it does set certain expectations. Right now, the stimulus bills are still shoring up the economy to some extent, and permanent job losses actually increased in the month of May. We should note as well that job losses for African Americans actually grew and the gap between white and black unemployment got worse. Still, it was easily the best news the president has had on any front in some time.
SIMON: And this week, the president was the subject of grave and serious criticism from high-profile and respected people who once worked for him who do not approve of his leadership, do they?
ELVING: It started with that dressing down of the governors that you mentioned. Then we had the violent clearing of peaceful protesters from the park across from the White House to set up Trump’s photo-op with the Bible in the boarded-up church. All this prompted unusually sharp responses from a number of retired national security officials and even military officers, such as retired Marine General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. They denounced the president’s talk about sending troops into American cities, and Mattis in particular said the president had not even tried to unite the country or even pretended to try. He said the president had chosen to divide and deepen the divide. And another retired Marine general, John Allen, wrote that the events of Monday night, the clearing of the park across from the White House, looked like the beginning of the end for American democracy.
SIMON: And when these generals spoke up, a number of, I guess what we’d call – what we used to call, I might say, centrist Republicans seemed to also speak. I’m thinking specifically of the Republican senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski.
ELVING: Yes. Senator Murkowski has not been a big Trump booster, but she has stood by him on the big votes. Now, with her newfound reluctance, the president has targeted her on Twitter, vowing to support anyone who will oppose her in her next primary – anyone with a pulse, the president said.
And one other remarkable thing the president said to end the week, on Friday morning, talking about the jobs report, he said George Floyd was hopefully looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. Continuing to quote the president, “a great day for him, a great day for everybody, a great day in terms of equality.”
SIMON: Do we know where, when the Republican National Convention in August is going to be?
ELVING: Not really. The governor there in North Carolina, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat. He says they are still seeing a lot of new COVID cases in North Carolina. He can’t guarantee approval for 20,000 people to go to Charlotte and jam into a basketball arena in August. And that prompted the president to say he was going to move his acceptance speech, the centerpiece of the convention, out of Charlotte, possibly to Tennessee or Texas or maybe most likely to Florida, which is now his home state.
SIMON: And we will note the polls don’t look so good for the president.
ELVING: It’s been a rough week for Trump in the polls, several of which now have him trailing Joe Biden nationally by 7 points or as many as 11.
SIMON: NPR’s Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
The Class of 2020 Is Missing Out, and So Are Politicians – The New York Times
The event comes with a captive audience of thousands — Republicans, Democrats, “apolitical” relatives, little siblings too young to vote. Everybody sits trapped in their bleacher seats. After 20 minutes, they dutifully applaud.
For a politician, a commencement speaking gig offers the kind of advertising that money can’t buy. “You have people of all different backgrounds gathered,” said Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, who delivered two dozen virtual commencement speeches this spring. “It’s a time of extraordinary diversity.”
Mr. Booker recalled that when he was chosen to give the address at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017, there were Republican trustees “pooh-poohing” the choice of such a partisan speaker. (He won them over, he said, with his focus on “our common values” and “the larger body politic.”)
College graduation ceremonies are fittingly focused on the graduates, but for some 20-odd minutes the spotlight turns to the illustrious speaker. Ideally the audience, in what Mr. Booker called its “extraordinary diversity,” might inspire a speech that transcends ideological divisions, as some of the most memorable ones have. The Apple founder Steve Jobs earned his spot in the commencement hall of fame with a 2005 speech at Stanford University reminding students that “you are going to die.” But when a politician steps up to the lectern, the message tends to veer away from death and toward politics.
This was no exception for the class of 2020. While isolated at home in their pajamas because of the coronavirus pandemic, graduates were saluted in virtual ceremonies headlined by government figures and entertainers. Former President Barack Obama celebrated the more than 27,000 graduates of historically black colleges and universities in May, and on Sunday he is set to join Lady Gaga, Malala Yousafzai and others in a “Dear Class of 2020” event hosted by YouTube, a lineup that even the most ambitious real-life commencement would find impossible to replicate.
One class of graduates will get its celebration in person: the 1,000 West Point cadets, who will be addressed by President Trump on June 13.
Tia Humphries, a Howard University graduate from Orlando, Fla., watched Mr. Obama’s virtual address with family in her living room, which her parents had decorated with streamers and balloons to mimic what Howard’s gymnasium would have looked like for the ceremony.
It quickly became clear the speech was not just for Ms. Humphries and her friends. The speech, given on May 16, weeks before Mr. Obama addressed the nation on the killing of George Floyd and the protest movement that followed, still used the momentous occasion as a way to reach beyond the graduates and their families.
The former president made headlines by using the opportunity to criticize the country leadership’s response to the coronavirus. He urged the graduates to take responsibility in the midst of the crisis, when political leaders “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Mr. Obama’s words followed in a long tradition of graduation speeches, landing in moments of national crisis, that are partly for the graduates and partly their country at large.
President John F. Kennedy called for a nuclear test ban treaty at American University’s 1963 graduation. President Lyndon B. Johnson created the framework for affirmative action policy at Howard University in 1965, the year after the Civil Rights Act passed. In 2002, President George W. Bush told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy that the country should be prepared for “pre-emptive action” in Iraq.
These speeches form a presidential ritual as familiar as it is peculiar: addressing the nation through its newly minted adults.
Leland Shelton, a 2013 graduate of Morehouse College, recalled his experience with the personal milestone turned political. Mr. Shelton had spent the months before his graduation lobbying class leaders to pick Ray Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, as the commencement speaker. Instead, they chose their president, Mr. Obama.
Midway through the speech the improbable happened. “Where’s Leland?” Mr. Obama said. The president went on to praise Mr. Shelton, a foster care child with a mother in prison who was Phi Beta Kappa and Harvard Law-bound. Mr. Shelton stood up to thunderous applause, listening in disbelief and wishing his mother was present.
But to Mr. Shelton, being included in the speech was also complicated. Mr. Obama spent several minutes urging the Morehouse graduates to be good parents to their children.
“I was thinking, ‘You’re talking to an audience of 550 black men going on to some of the best professional schools in the country,’” Mr. Shelton said. The message seemed to “harken to stereotypes about black men not being good fathers, which I don’t think are true.”
Some political commencement speeches evoke far more than mixed emotions. In 2014, Condoleezza Rice had to withdraw from the Rutgers commencement after students staged a sit-in condemning her foreign policy at the university president’s office.
Kathleen Sebelius, former secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration, was interrupted by a heckler at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in 2012, and a small group protested her appearance at the university’s front gate. Georgetown’s president said it was the decision of students at the institute to invite Ms. Sebelius as a speaker.
Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., had its 2017 commencement interrupted when some students turned their backs on the speaker, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Student leaders said they were protesting comments Ms. DeVos made three months earlier that referred to historically black institutions as “pioneers” of “school choice”; they were established at the height of racial segregation.
For Fedrick Ingram, an older alumnus of the university who helped coordinate the protests, the disruption was the highlight of the ceremony. “It was electricity,” he said. “It was almost like 1968 with the Freedom Riders.” The university president had threatened to withhold degrees from students who disrupted the ceremony, but dozens booed Ms. DeVos anyway.
Political commencement speeches aren’t always mired in drama, but for many students and families they evoke a simpler question: Why draw politics into a day that’s otherwise festive and uncontroversial?
That was a question on Michael Agnello’s mind, when the University of Massachusetts, Amherst announced Elizabeth Warren as its undergraduate commencement speaker, in 2017. Mr. Agnello was a fan of the Massachusetts senator, but he knew his more conservative family members would be skeptical of the university’s decision. He decided to bring some levity to the day by creating “Elizabeth Warren’s Commencement Speech Drinking Game.”
The rules Mr. Agnello designed were straightforward. For a mention of “the disappearing middle class,” he advised readers to “fight fire with fire and rip that Fireball.” For a discussion of “student debt,” the rule was to “quell such injustice” with “a nip of Smirnoff.”
But he was not expecting the senator to stumble upon his game online and refer to it directly — which she did midway through her speech, with a reference to Fireball that delighted his conservative relatives.
“By the time we walked out of the football stadium I had 30 texts on my phone like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened,’” Mr. Agnello said. “My family was cracking up.”
Politicians, for their part, realize the difficulties of imparting wisdom to an audience with lots of competing concerns, from family drama to last hurrah hangovers. “It’s always a crapshoot with graduating seniors because a lot of them might have been out super late the night before,” said Cody Keenan, a speechwriter for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama gave more than two dozen commencement speeches while in office — at military schools like West Point, state institutions like Ohio State and private ones like Barnard. Over years of commencement speechwriting, Mr. Keenan developed rules of the road. The speaker should be funny and self-deprecating. He should not over-index on the political, even in an election season.
Most important, Mr. Keenan said, is that speechwriters not fixate on producing a speech that becomes an instant classic.
“One of the mistakes people make is that they’re like, ‘I want to break through,’” he said. “‘I want to be Steve Jobs in 2005.’ Steve Jobs broke through because he was dying and explicitly talked about that.”
Kendra Grissom, who graduated from Spelman College last month, was looking forward to the many rites of commencement weekend: marching through the alumni arch, dressing up for senior soiree, passing down the class cymbal. Instead, she said, she spent it propped up in bed watching a parade of digital speeches from “Debbie Allen, some executive from Chase and a basketball player.”
But Mr. Obama offered some assurance for graduates like Ms. Grissom: “The disappointments of missing a live graduation, those will pass pretty quick,” he said. The greatest solace, according to the former president: “Not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn’t all that bad. Mine usually go on way too long.”
Amid protests, US faith leaders engage racism and politics – Rimbey Review
Amid protests, U.S. faith leaders engage racism and politics
NEW YORK — As days of anti-racism protests sparked by police killings push Americans toward a national reckoning, religious leaders are stepping more directly into the politics surrounding discrimination, entering into a dialogue that cuts across lines of faith and colour.
Groups from multiple denominations across Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths have publicly called for action against racism, aligning with peaceful demonstrators’ goals following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Even beyond those statements, the amount and diversity of religious involvement in the ongoing protests suggests a possible sea change for faith-driven engagement in racial justice issues.
“I’ve seen people of different faiths coming out and saying ‘this was wrong’ in ways I didn’t see before,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister of justice at the United Church of Christ and an early spiritual leader in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Religion’s role in struggles against racial bias long predates Floyd’s killing, which sparked mass demonstrations across the United States and even in other countries. But a notable shift has taken place this week.
Among those who’ve publicly backed protesters are clergy from the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox and Reform Judaism.
Meanwhile Catholic and Episcopal leaders openly criticized President Donald Trump after peaceful demonstrators were forcefully cleared to make way for his brief visit and photo-op outside the historic St. John’s Church near the White House.
On Wednesday, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, leader of the United Methodist Church’s Washington-area conference, joined Rev. Mariann Budde, the bishop of Washington’s Episcopal diocese, which includes St. Johns, and other faith leaders for a prayer vigil that aimed to orient the religious conversation around fighting racism.
“I think that all leaders that consider themselves to be religious or moral leaders have an obligation to rise and to speak to this moment, because institutional racism and supremacy cannot be dismantled by African American leaders alone,” said Easterling, who is African American. “Those who enjoy the privilege of those systems must rise.”
The vigil was initially set to take place at St. John’s but had to move to a nearby block after local law enforcement extended the security perimeter around the White House.
Budde, who expressed outrage Monday over Trump’s use of St. John’s as a backdrop, said white Americans need to engage more in “the realities of this country that we … are allowed to be blind to in ways that cost people of colour.”
Trump’s visit, in which he held up a Bible and said “we have a great country,” was at least in part intended as a show of solidarity with faith, according to the White House. But the manoeuvr nudged Budde and other religious leaders to wade further into the political realm, airing their disagreement.
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