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Pandemics and politics: Lessons from the HIV/AIDS crisis | TheHill – The Hill

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In 1988 I took a job helping eight AIDS service organizations assemble a coalition to demand a better response to a national epidemic largely ignored by our government. The group was small, underfunded, politically naïve, and had collectively never worked in policy at any level. Yet by 1991 it gave rise to one of the most effective and innovative public health responses of our time.

Having been on those front lines to witness one of the darkest moments of a deep failure of politics and then the pivotal change to systemic reform, I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned — many replicable to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic we now face.

Pandemics expose systemic failures; therefore, systemic solutions are required if we hope to respond effectively. COVID-19, like its cousins HIV, SARS and Ebola, is a merciless teacher of weakness — perhaps more so in our political system than in any other.

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You can see the parallels clearly between HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. What went wrong in the response to the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1983 to 1991 was a massive failure of politics, but what went right was the subsequent political movement that funded science, treatment, prevention, civil rights protection and health care access. When we sought solutions for HIV/AIDS, we didn’t look at band-aids to systems, but rather at reforming and innovating the public health system that had failed millions of people.

This is exactly what must happen now with COVID-19.

These situations are not perfect analogies, but the pivotal role politics has and will play before, during and after their emergence reveals a few hard lessons learned that can be applied to our current crisis. 

The public health imperatives for COVID-19 mimic the recommendations made for HIV/AIDS — namely massive testing and contact tracing. Yet before we could test the most vulnerable populations and seek their cooperation in contact tracing, we needed trust. Trust that a positive test didn’t mean a death sentence, unemployment, eviction or isolation from family and friends. Systemic failures and inadequate support drives people away, underground and anonymous — it also spreads a deadly virus.

There is an alarm bell going off in the disparities the impact COVID-19 has on vulnerable communities across America right now. And that’s exactly what happened between 1983 and 1991, when the government only sowed distrust and alienation, leading to the erasure of entire communities. This is not an easy truth, but it is an essential one that we must heed in our response to COVID-19.    

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The turning point of the HIV/AIDS epidemic was when political forces that had denied it and stigmatized it changed their tune. That moment was the passage of the Ryan White CARE Act — the nation’s first and still most comprehensive response to the care and treatment of people with HIV/AIDS. The bill was written by the front-line leaders I worked with at AIDS Action—the eight organizations on the ground every day serving the sick and suffering. Their insight into policy solutions and the practical demands of service are the cornerstone of the bill’s continued success.  

The same should be the case for our policy responses to COVID-19. Enough with throwing fluffy accolades at first responders and health care workers; instead, invite them to the policy table and ask them how the government can address this pandemic more effectively and with lasting results. The answers are there if politicians listen. 

In these moments, three things must prevail: sound policy formed by experts in close alignment with science and facts; mature politics by leaders who set aside ideology, take responsibility and unite us under comprehensive legislation; and public knowledge of facts, not spins on stories that propagate more confusion and distrust. There will be accountability when these trying times are over, as there was with HIV/AIDS. Today’s politicians should understand that, throughout our present pandemic, the country is watching them.

History is our best teacher; actions are our best hope for the future. Politics and pandemics are inextricably linked, and our future lies in the balance, once again.  

Thomas F. Sheridan is a 30-year veteran lobbyist, with advocacy efforts including Bono’s ONE Campaign, AIDS Action and Save the Children. He served as lead lobbyist for the Americans with Disabilities Act and is author of “Helping the Good Do Better: How a White Hat Lobbyist Advocates for Social Change.”

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Liberals' ability to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny plays into system of 'image politics,' critics say – National Post

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OTTAWA — The Liberal government has avoided months of parliamentary scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead using televised daily briefings with the prime minister to further its system of “image politics,” an expert in democratic process says.

The Liberals and New Democratic Party agreed earlier this week to suspend parliamentary proceedings until September 21, equipping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a “tremendous amount of power over the summer,” said Kathy Brock, professor at Queen’s University.

The decision comes after Trudeau has for months appeared in the House of Commons on a limited basis, instead using his daily briefings outside Rideau Cottage to announce major new spending measures and take questions from the media.

He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model

“This government is very focused on messaging and image politics and that meant that it wanted to respond to the needs of Canadians when the pandemic came up,” said Brock, who has served in various advisory roles to all three major political parties over the last 30 years.

“But when they started to face criticism for not acting as quickly as possible, the prime minister turned to the easiest tool, which is having briefings with the media outside Rideau Cottage,” she said.

The approach has been met with criticism by opposition parties and parliamentary experts, who say politicians have not had adequate time to press the Trudeau government on some of its largest spending measures, which now top an estimated $150 billion. They also say the government overreached in an earlier attempt to equip itself with the authority to tax, spend and loan money with almost no parliamentary oversight for nearly two years, well beyond the expected timeframe of the pandemic.

Other observers point out that Parliament would typically rise for the summer months regardless, and that “hybrid” forms of Question Period, which include virtual questions and answer sessions, have continued for the past few months.

“The cut-off in June is not an aberration,” said Lori Turnbull, professor of political science at Dalhousie University. However, she questioned “why there’s such a desire” to close off access to other forms of scrutiny, like private members bills or written questions to Parliament.

Turnbull, like others, has been surprised by the Liberals’ ability to secure the support of opposition parties to restrict in-person sittings of Commons.

“Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government,” she said, “It’s incredible what this government has done. We usually see more push and pull between the opposition and the government.”

The NDP has faced criticism for making an agreement with the Liberal party to suspend Parliament because it allows for the government to sidestep proper scrutiny.

NDP House leader Peter Julian pushed back against those claims in an interview Thursday, saying the deal secured four sitting days in the House of Commons during the summer — a provision that other parties were not pushing for.

“There’s been a lot of exaggeration,” Julian said.

Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government

The NDP opposed a Conservative proposal that would have had regular in-person sittings in the Commons well into June, in which a select group of roughly 50 people would attend in order to maintain social distancing measures. The proposal would have allowed Parliament to exert its full powers before summer break, but Julian argued it would have needlessly excluded the majority of MPs in Canada.

“I think it’s a very Ottawa-centric interpretation,” he said.

A spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez reiterated that all parties agreed to the March 13 motion to suspend Parliament until April 20. The agreement with the NDP allows for the continuation of a special COVID-19 committee that meets several times a week, but is not afforded the regular powers of the House.

“We believe it is a responsible plan that ensures accountability and transparency, and respects public health advice,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.

Candice Bergen, Conservative House leader, said there has been a push for months by the Liberal government to avoid regular parliamentary sittings. MPs in recent weeks had been sitting in-person on a limited basis once a week.


Conservative House leader Candice Bergen.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/File

“I was clear with Pablo that we felt Parliament needed to resume,” Bergen said. “But that was clearly not what the government wanted and they found a dance partner in the NDP.”

She said Trudeau has instead opted to convey the Liberals approach to COVID-19 through the televised briefings at his official residence, where media ask daily questions.

“He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model,” Bergen said, adding that media “is not a substitute for the official Opposition.”

Brock, at Queen’s University, said the Rideau Cottage meetings give Trudeau more time to craft his own message on a daily basis, unimpeded, while taking only a select number of questions from journalists.

“It certainly operates in the Liberals’ favour, because they’re receiving media attention and it seems very positive because they’re responding to a crisis,” she said. “But it means that they aren’t getting tough questions to the same extent on other, lesser known files.”

• Email: jsnyder@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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A Guide to the Economics and Politics of the Coronavirus Recovery – The New Yorker

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Photograph by Marco Bello / Reuters

Just a month ago, experts were predicting that the American economy would be slow to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment remains at record highs, but, as the country begins to reopen, federal policies that have bolstered small businesses and bailed out big ones seem to have helped avoid another Great Depression. John Cassidy joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss how good news about the economy complicates Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump.

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Keep Politics Out of Reopening Houses of Worship – The New York Times

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Credit…Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “Firing Salvo in Culture Wars, Trump Wants Churches Open” (front page, May 23):

Last Friday was not the first time we have witnessed a politician attempting to ingratiate himself with faith communities. Through the years, leaders from both major political parties have sought the support of houses of worship in their electoral campaigns.

Certainly those of us who devote our lives to religious leadership would like to consider our work “essential.” And we eagerly await the day when we can welcome our congregants back to their spiritual homes. While we can pray to God anywhere at any time alone or with others, and while the internet has provided a viable and meaningful vehicle for gathering our members in this time of physical distancing, nothing could ever replace the power of in-person congregational worship.

But religious communities must not become political pawns for a president seeking to placate his evangelical base. In Judaism, the saving of life supersedes all other religious responsibilities. The decision whether or not to reopen houses of worship belongs in the hands of local authorities alone, guided by health concerns, not political ones.

Joshua M. Davidson
New York
The writer is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.

To the Editor:

The cynicism of President Trump’s call to governors to open the churches is staggering. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every day. I have always loved the ritual of the Mass, and I rejoice and celebrate as I gather with friends old and new who enrich my life. I will return joyfully to my church when our governor deems it safe to do so, not when it is politically expedient for our president.

John T. Dillon
West Caldwell, N.J.

To the Editor:

President Trump asks all governors to immediately open up churches and allow in-person worship — without testing. Yet everyone who meets with Mr. Trump must first be tested.

So, what’s good for the gander ain’t good for the goose. If he truly believes that in-person worship is safe, let’s see him go to these churches (or restaurants or theaters) without testing — and let’s see him mingle with the folks not wearing masks.

Marc R. Stanley
Dallas

Credit…From left: Zack DeZon for The New York Times; Andrew Seng for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Star of the City Sells Itself,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, Arts pages, May 7):

OK, the Brooklyn Bridge is wholly in New York City and joins two of its boroughs. And it was something of an engineering achievement. Book after book has been written about it; it appears in a wealth of movies.

But the great bridge in the New York area is the George Washington.

When I sought to read a book on the George, I discovered that there were none. Participating in a symposium at Columbia University on American icons, and listening to others drone on about the Brooklyn, I asked “What about the George?” There was complete silence. Then one participant said, to almost universal laughter, “But look where it goes,” the suggestion being that since the George crosses to New Jersey, it couldn’t possibly be important.

The George is also the gateway to Interstate 80, on which one may travel in a straight line to San Francisco. New Yorkers think of themselves as sophisticated compared with New Jerseyans, but they can often be decidedly parochial.

Michael Aaron Rockland
Morristown, N.J.
The writer is the author of “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel” and a professor of American studies at Rutgers.

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