South America is the new epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic, but the region’s leaders have responded to the crisis very differently.
A great deal has been said about poverty in this part of the world, like the favelas in Brazil where social distancing is hard to achieve and where basic sanitation is not always a given.
There is also the fact that there are so many millions of unregistered workers who rely on earning money every day to put food on the table for their families.
The impossible choice that many people have told me they face is to risk starving or risk getting Covid-19.
There are, undoubtedly, massive challenges in this, one of the most unequal parts of the world. But, say many experts, politics is just as important as poverty.
“I always defended – as many of us in public health did – the importance of having strong, structured health systems,” says Deisy Ventura, professor of Global Health Ethics at the University of Sao Paulo.
“But if there’s one thing I have learned from the pandemic it’s the importance of politics – for good and bad.”
Unity in Argentina
Professor Ventura singles out Argentina. Leading a country already deep in economic crisis, President Alberto Fernandez, who has been in power for less than a year, locked down swiftly when the virus hit.
The country has registered just over 90,000 cases and 1,720 people have died.
“It’s an extremely divided country, it’s been through a very intense political crisis but those adversaries were able to sit around the table and come to an agreement over the necessities of quarantine measures,” says Professor Ventura.
“They have press conferences with various politicians from different political stripes and they announce things together – so the population understand what needs to be done.”
Uruguay and Paraguay have also been singled out as examples. They have fewer than 100 deaths between them, even though they both share borders with badly hit Brazil.
But they are the exceptions.
‘Pandemonium’ in Brazil?
“Unfortunately in some Latin American countries – Brazil especially – the issue of measures has become partisan and that is absurd,” says Professor Ventura.
Its President, Jair Bolsonaro, is a man who has made light of the virus from the very start.
He’s called it the sniffles and seldom paid tribute to the nearly 70,000 people who have died. He has disagreed with his own health ministry over the importance of social distancing, he has argued with state governors who introduced quarantine measures and he has pushed to re-open the economy at the earliest opportunity.
Now he has the virus himself, he’s taking the opportunity to promote the unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a valid treatment.
This confused political messaging doesn’t help.
“Brazil is the only country dealing with a pandemonium and a pandemic at the same time,” says Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist who is helping north-eastern states tackle Covid-19.
“Nowhere that you can look in the world you can see a political upheaval at the same time you are trying to fight the coronavirus. The response of the federal government has been the worst you could imagine.”
Communication is key during an emergency, says Professor Ventura.
“People learn very quickly when they are exposed to a risk. They need to understand the risk, communication needs to be efficient and they need to trust authorities.”
But that lack of trust is echoed across the region.
A ‘missed opportunity’ for Chile?
Mati Libuy Rios is a doctor in Maipu, one of the worst-hit parts of Chile’s capital Santiago. A relatively rich country in South America, Chile has seen a sharp rise in cases and deaths in recent weeks. More than 300,000 registered infections and nearly 7,000 confirmed deaths.
Mati has been working flat out in recent months – on one recent shift, he had to tell 10 families that their loved ones were dying.
“It’s really hard – I am 30 years old, this will probably be the most challenging experience of my life as a physician. Nobody prepares you for this situation.”
There is tension in Chile over lockdown – and the pandemic hit just months after widespread protests last year over social and economic inequalities.
Mati thinks the government failed to step up to the task of dealing with the pandemic early on.
“We have massive health inequalities, people need to work to get food every day, it’s as simple as that,” he says.
“The government needed to give people all the material conditions to stay at home and at the same time increase testing, isolate contagious people and track all the possible contacts. It’s the simplest way to control it and they missed the opportunity.”
But nothing compares to the numbers in Brazil – a country where many feel the pandemic is nothing but political.
“Every country that took this lightly – that initially made a joke about it – paid a huge price,” says Miguel Nicolelis.
“When politicians challenge biology, biology wins by a huge margin. Sorry and sad to say as a Brazilian but it’s the reality. We didn’t prepare, take it seriously and we now see exponential curves exploding. You cannot even describe this.”
Chris Evans hopes to shield democracy with politics website – meadowlakeNOW
“This was born out of the same reason I do what I do on Twitter. You want to try and help. You want to try and use the platform that you’ve been given the right way,” Evans said. “And this felt like it could cast the widest net because it actually removed my personal politics and just tried to offer information to people who may want to participate.”
The site is divided into three sections. One includes three Republicans and three Democrats answering questions about broad long-term issues like immigration, climate change, student debt and gerrymandering. The second allows politicians to upload solo messages about hot topics like Trump’s executive orders or TikTok ban. And a “counterpoints” section highlights moderated interparty debates: Should schools reopen during the pandemic? Should the government require mail-in voting?
The site is intended to educate, not advocate, Evans says. It’s built without incentives toward extremes. There are no view counters, like or dislike buttons, or comments sections. Some of the videos are fact-checked by an outside group.
“The reason for doing this site is to combat the proliferation of misinformation,” Evans said in an interview from his home in Boston. “A lot of the misinformation out there comes from individuals who have created these platforms and they pull snippets of information to places and create a narrative. And it’s a lot of conjecture. And you hope that the elected officials who are in office are the ones trying to cut through that.”
Evans, whose uncle served in Congress as a Democrat for a decade ending last year, says he and Kassen had to push hard to convince Republicans to participate. The 39-year-old actor had thrilled liberals early in Trump’s term, calling the president “Biff” and a “meatball.”
Kassen said Evans’ reputation left the pair with “a hill to climb” as the pair visited offices around the Capitol pitching their vision of an impartial online venue: “Our hard work and his charm allowed us to keep going. But for sure, there was a lot of bias against us because of that.”
Evans says he’s been pleased to see Republicans uploading more “daily points” videos to the site than Democrats in recent weeks.
As he prepares to potentially film a Netflix spy movie in January, the self-described “news junkie” says he’s tuned out the presidential campaign temporarily to focus on A Starting Point. His social media is mostly benign these days.
“It’s a measure of efficacy. How can you be of most good, of most service?” Evans said. “This site feels to me that it could have a broader impact than anything I could do on my individual Twitter.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanwrd
Ryan Pearson, The Associated Press
Black women in politics are no longer a ‘first.’ They are a force. – The Washington Post
Simply put, Black women are no longer a “first” in politics — they are a force.
Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, was one of 11 finalists to be Joe Biden’s running mate, six of whom identify as Black. These contenders were neither tokens nor novelties; their experience, accomplishments and capacity to lead qualified them for Biden’s short list. The breadth of that field is a remarkable indicator of how quickly Black women have advanced in politics.
Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm was on her way to being a first when she joined the New York State Assembly in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act gave teeth to the promise of the 15th Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination based on race, and the 19th Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination based on gender. A wave of Black women voters was unleashed.
Chisholm’s slogan, “Unbought and unbossed,” signaled that Black women would enter politics on their own terms. By 1968, Chisholm had become the first Black woman to win a seat in Congress. In 1972, she ran for president, aiming to break ground. “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud,” she said. “I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I’m equally proud of that. … I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”
Next came Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 campaigned in the heart of what had been the Jim Crow South. Black women organized in her hometown of Houston, raising funds and turning out voters. Jordan became the first woman — Black or White — to represent Texas in Congress in her own right.
When she took the House floor to open the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, Jordan invoked the Constitution’s preamble to explain the significance of her presence. “When that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people,’ ” Jordan said. “…But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision, I have finally been included.”
In just one generation came many more firsts. At the state level in the 1990s, Black women were elected attorney general in Indiana, secretary of state in Colorado and treasurer in Connecticut. In D.C., Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first Black woman mayor of a major city. Thirteen Black women were elected to the U.S. House. In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2004, she ran, unsuccessfully, for president.
Some offices — such as governorships — still elude Black women, but there has been a clear shift: No longer are they running simply to open doors for others. Black women have won a multitude of offices from county to federal levels in recent decades, building power along the way.
In 2008, Black women flexed their political muscle. Beyond the headlines of the Democratic primary contest that pitted a Black man against a White woman, there were Black women with diverse careers and backgrounds — among them Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, politico Donna Brazile and political-scientist-turned-journalist Melissa Harris-Perry — using their influence to turn out admirers and transform them into voters.
In the blogosphere and elsewhere, Black women pushed back against the expectation that they fit into a politics dissected between men and women, Black and White. Michelle Obama’s convention declaration — “I stand here today at the cross currents of that history” — resonated among women who felt their political identities had been forged in the intersections of race and gender, and in the fight against distinct discrimination.
For decades, Black women made their presence known as a collective. They voted at a higher rate than any other racial or gender group in 2012, and 96 percent voted to reelect President Barack Obama. In 2016, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton, while White women split between Clinton and Donald Trump. In Mississippi’s 2017 U.S. Senate election, fully 98 percent of the Black women who voted cast ballots for Doug Jones.
When, many have wondered, would this voting power translate to power in high office? November may tell. In just over half a century of vying for political power, Black women have moved beyond firsts. Harris is not merely a barrier-breaker on the ballot; she’s part of a generation of Black women leaders who are changing politics — and our collective future.
In 'Boys State,' American politics in a teenage microcosm – EverythingGP
“Boys State” may sound like a mere mock government exercise, but the film finds in Boys State a microcosm of American politics, one that frighteningly reflects much of the tenor of today’s Washington and, in other ways, counters our more cynical grown-up government with stirring idealism. “Boys State” will give you both hope and fear for America’s future.
“The film is an unvarnished depiction of what we encountered,” says Moss. “And that includes the horrifying but also the profoundly moving and the uplifting.”
Boys States are run throughout the country by the American Legion, along with corresponding Girls States. Some notable names — from Bill Clinton to Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh to Mark Wahlberg — have gone through the program. Moss and McBaine were unaware of Boys State before reading a 2017 Washington Post article about a first in the program’s history: Texas voted to secede.
The filmmakers sensed they had found a prism through which to view the changing nature of civic discourse in the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump. Paul Barker, then Chairman of the American Legion Texas Boys State, was impressed by McBaine and Moss’ previous film ( “The Overnighters” ) and figured a documentary could expand the program. He had one suggestion.
“When kids are 17-years-old, sometimes their mouth gets ahead of their brain,” says Barker. “But you have to see that as part of a learning process. My only caution to them was to let the needle run.”
The filmmakers, who shot the 2018 program, expected juvenile behaviour and got it. The boys, not irrationally, enact a statewide ban on pineapple pizza. But Moss and McBaine were less prepared for the emotional ride of watching some of the students find their voice.
Foremost among them is Steven Garza, a liberal-minded son of Mexican immigrants. He’s more reserved than many of his fellow high-schoolers. In an overwhelmingly white and largely conservative mass of boys, Garza stands out. Yet his underdog campaign gains momentum, rising on his own idealism and his ability to connect straightforwardly with others.
“I came out even more idealistic,” says Garza, now a 19-year-old studying politics at the University of Texas, Austin. “I knew that I could run a campaign as a brown person, a progressive person and have conservatives vote for me. Even if they didn’t believe everything I stood for, they believed that if I was elected that I would work with them to come to agreements.”
“We’re a lot closer than most people think and a lot closer than the people who are actually in Congress are,” says Garza.
The Texas Boys State, like the national political system, is a skewed representation. It’s a program that, as Moss says, “has a foot in the 21st century and a foot in the 1950s.”
Barker readily grants the film has been cause for reflection for the program. The huge imbalance in diversity, he says, is something that may take a cultural shift for the organization to change. (Field offices of the American Legion interview students from across the state and pluck one or two per high school.) A Peoples State, with boys and girls, has frequently been considered but isn’t happening anytime soon.
“They can make a better effort to create an outreach or recruitment program that reflects the growing diversity of Texas,” says René Otero, one of the few African American students seen in “Boys State” and the film’s most gifted orator. “I didn’t feel protected as a student of colour. If you want to engage people in civics, you have to show them that the people who need civics the most — the oppressed — have the power to engage.”
Otero departed jaded from the experience and disinterested in politics. His place, he feels now, is outside the system. He wants to be activist and an educator.
“I’ve been around a lot of white folks before but not THAT many for seven days. It felt like I had to conform to a different space. I was trying to figure out how to change and twist myself up,” says Otero. “But being forced to self-advocate was a beautiful lesson in developing my agency as a person.”
There are smear campaigns and reckless gambits of self-preservation in “Boys State.” Abortion rights are wielded as a political tool. Robert MacDougall runs on a pro-life platform but acknowledges in a private interview he’s pro-choice. “Sometimes you can’t win on what you believe in your heart,” he says. Federalist Party chairman Ben Feinstein, a Ronald Reagan acolyte who lost his legs to meningitis, in one scene cribs from what he calls “the Trump playbook.”
“It was chilling to hear Ben — who we really love as a person and is complex — invoke Trump,” says Moss. “That was a question for us. Are young people internalizing the norms of behaviour that we see? Of course they are.”
But they are also forging their own conceptions of government. The film’s primary subjects have stayed in touch since 2018 and attended Sundance together. Some of their views have since aligned, some still diverge. But they all respect each other. Talking — and filmmaking — has brought them closer.
“Collectively as a group is how we’re going to change this country,” says Garza.
McBaine and Moss aren’t done with the program. When the pandemic passes, they plan to document Girls State.
“It’s not a sequel,” says McBaine. “It’s a sibling.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
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